Growing your building business is not as hard as you might think.
Some of you will know that I used to have a building company. It’s been a while now, I founded the company in 1983 and I sold the company to my junior partner in 2003, but I have many fond memories of my building days (and some not so fond).
Because of my background I am often asked how to grow a building business, while keeping margins up. In my experience, business growth in the building industry comes down to implementing Five Golden Rules:
Under-promise and over-deliver
Probably not the Rules you were expecting, so let me explain:
Muddy boots and cream carpets
The building industry in Australia is a strange beast. On the one hand, because of it’s widespread system of contractors and sub contractors, I believe it’s probably one of the most efficient building industries in the world, but on the other hand I also believe it is one of the unruliest building industries in the world. Most of us know one or more horror stories of builders going bankrupt, subbies walking off site, costs spiralling out of control, tradies walking muddy boots through cream carpets, leaking bathrooms, disputes before tribunals and indecipherable quotes on the back of enveloppes.
I’ve certainly have my fair share of war stories from my 20 years in the building industry in Sydney. And to be honest, I’ll even admit that I and my company might even have been at the root-cause of a couple of those stories.
It’s not easy running a building or building-trades company in Australia. But there’s two sides to that coin. There’s great opportunity in the building industry to grow your business and make good money, because there are so many drongos out there and customers are desperate to find professional reliable businesses to deal with.
Laying out the red carpet
It was that way in my days as a builder. The good, professional, reliable, tilers, bricklayers, carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, concreters, renderers and roofers were always busy. I would have to book them in 6 weeks in advance, I’d have to pay them well and lay out the red carpet for them, or they’d go somewhere else. And I learnt that I’d better do all of that, and then some, because getting the cheaper, available tradies always led to disasters of one kind or another and most importantly, unhappy customers.
The Golden Rules:
Hence my Five Golden Rules for Growing your Building Company above, because this is what I learned about developing a growing Beautiful Building Business (and Life):
Be empathic: Building contracts are big things, in dollar terms as well as scope. Customers enter into building contracts with great trepidation, because it’s usually the biggest contract of any type they’ve ever signed and they can’t even see what they’re buying yet. You need to be sensitive to that anxiety, that all customers experience at some stage in the journey. You deal with big contracts and big turnover every day. For your customers it’s a great source of stress. Stress makes people behave irrationally… Make allowances for that.
Be predictable: People are happy to pay your price if they feel confident they’ll get what they are expecting. If they don’t have that confidence, they’ll shop on price because that’s the only thing they can control.
Under-promise and over-deliver: If you say you’ll be ready with something by Friday, surprise them and finish by lunchtime on Friday and then take some time to really clean up, dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Don’t ever tell the customer you’ll be all finished by Friday and then when they come home from work on Friday it’s still unfinished and a mess… That’s just asking for trouble.
Say No: Don’t take on work you don’t feel confident you can deliver, fully, properly, on time, profitably and with a smile. Say yes, only when you are 100% confident you can do it how it’s meant to be done.
Communicate: The three C’s: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. If you come to the conclusion on Wednesday that you can’t complete the job on Friday as you promised… Tell them… on Wednesday… By email, by letter, by carrier pidgeon, by SMS, or by Whatsapp or Twitter… But for Pete’s sake, tell them. They won’t know, they expect to have a Barbeque on the new deck on Friday evening and they’ve invited their friends to celebrate. Similarly… If you strike something unexpected, you hit rock where you didn’t expect it, asbestos in the roof, an aboriginal artifact in the footings, a conflict on the drawings, you find out you’ve made a mistake in your calculations, ordered the kitchen benchtop 100 mm too short, or forgotten to order it at all… TELL THEM. Seriously. They’ll understand. They’ve made mistakes in their life as well.
And if you do all of that… If you live and breathe those rules, every day, and you hammer those rules into the heads of your employees and subbies, your business will grow and grow and grow, because your customers will be your Raving Fans and they’ll do your marketing for you. They’ll tell their friends all about how you finished the deck early on Friday, cleaned and tidied up and left a bottle of wine to have with the barbie on the deck when you came home from work. They’ll talk about you to their work-mates and convince their neighbours to have their own decks built by you as well, even though they’ve had cheaper quotes.
The alternative means you’ll have to endlessly compete on price and competing on price is a dog’s game… trust me on that.
Do these 5 things right every time and your business will never stop growing
I’m often asked by clients to help them grow their service business. I nearly always tell them that growth is easy in a business based on services, anyone can grow a small business.
All you need to do is this:
Deliver what you promise
At the time you promise it
For the price you promise it
For a profit and
With a smile.
That’s all… Honestly
If you do those 5 things, every day, customers will break down your doors, because so few small businesses do.
Most small businesses fail doing those 5 things consistently and stunt their growth, because of the classic problem of small business growth:
It’s easy when you’re small
You see, when your business is small, you and a couple of people delivering all the services, be it plumbing, washing machine repairs, fixing cars, bookkeeping, designing websites or building houses, then it’s easy to manage and be in control of everything. You can make sure things happen the way you want them to happen.
Once you start to grow with 5, 10 or more employees, and you have a number of teams, or vans on the road, suddenly you’re not in touch with everything that goes on anymore. You don’t even get to meet all the customers and you won’t personally see all the services that get delivered. You have to rely on others, and hope they do things the way you want them done. That they communicate with customers they way you expect them to and that they take their dirty boots off before they traipse in through the house.
Managing by keeping your fingers crossed.
And guess what? It doesn’t work. Your customers start being less than happy, they start looking elsewhere, you’ll believe you need to lower your prices to keep them and it all becomes a dog’s game.
So here’s the biggest secret of all to growing your business:
Learn to say no.
Learn to say no, until you can handle the growth. Never taken on any work, any new business, unless you are confident you can deliver it to those 5 standards above.
If you do that, you’ll be in control of your business, you won’t have to compromise on price and you will build a Beautiful Business and Life. And the customers? They’ll keep coming. There is never a shortage of customers for businesses who deliver on all of their promises, with a smile… I promise you.
Guest post by The Art of Windows and Doors, link at the end of this article
Choosing to shop with your local businesses instead of the large chain stores has many benefits, some of which we are sure will surprise you. As this is the case, we thought we would put together 15 of the best reasons why you should choose your local independent business over a large, commercial supplier. Choosing a local business over their larger counterparts may actually have more positive effects than you think, not just for the company but for everyone involved.
The local economy
Local businesses are the backbone of our economy and often large tourist attractions. But what you may not know is that shopping at a local business, rather than a large chain, is actually better for the economy of your community. To ensure a strong and sustainable local economy foundation people need to buy locally. Research shows that $10 spent with a local independent shop means up to an additional $50 goes back into the local economy. This is simply because the nearby shop owners, who you are spending your money with, will then put that money back into your local community by going into local bars and restaurants etc, thus circulating the money and allowing your community to thrive.
Create local jobs
Shopping with and investing in local businesses means you can have a very strong and positive effect on the health of the local jobs in your area. Small, local businesses are surprisingly the largest employer of jobs nationally and provide the most local jobs to communities. Not only this, but local employers are more likely to pay a higher average wage than their commercial chain counterparts. Helping to grow the number of jobs in your area makes for a better place to live and work which then creates a healthy economy for the community.
Online isn’t always best
For many of us, we believe that the absolute best deals can only be found online. Through TV adverts, radio adverts and online adverts we are constantly shown great deals that seem too good to be true, and often this is sadly the case. However, you might be surprised to see just how competitive the prices are in your local shops and businesses. Find out what your local area can offer you first, before checking online.
Personality and character
The fantastic thing about independent businesses is that they are run by people, not by boards, stockholders or algorithms. As they are run by local people you will usually find that the business/shops building is in keeping with aesthetic of the area, adding character to the community and a touch of warm, welcoming personality, backed-up by this article from Forbes. This natural authenticity will always be more popular than a chain, no matter where in the country.
Customer service and shopping experience
Although many chain businesses do have good customer service, you can’t beat the personal touch of a local owner who knows everyone in the neighbourhood. They can offer you a product that is suitable for you, your house and even your area. Building relationships between the local owner and the local customer goes further than just a purchase. It is also worth remembering that local shops stock an inventory based on their own customer’s choices rather than national fashion trends. This is so you can find what you want rather than finding what they want to sell you.
This one might surprise you, but choosing a local company over a chain can actually have a positive impact on the environment. This is because the majority of local companies are found on the high street and are within walking distance, rather than a drive away to the nearest large shopping centre. If more people chose to pop to the local town rather than driving to the superstores, this would considerably reduce air pollution, reduce traffic and improve the quality of the nation’s towns.
Originality and individuality
In a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by chain stores, which have been designed to look the same, independent businesses bring much-needed originality and variety into communities. They can be a real breath of fresh air into an area populated by generic stores and companies.
Through supporting your local businesses, you are actually helping to support local entrepreneurs who once may not have had a chance of getting their company started. Through more people choosing the smaller, local option over the larger chain businesses it is allowing more entrepreneurs to get their foot in the door, thus making for a very healthy economy.
Help to create the identity
Some local businesses will actually help shape the identity of the area. A high street filled with unique, vibrant and colourful shops will attract more tourism and help to make the community a more popular and financially healthier area in which to live and work. There are many places around the world that are known for exactly this. Places such as Perth, Manchester and New York are all full of local companies thriving thanks to a healthy view of independent businesses.
Local business for local charities
Buying locally means that you are actually supporting your own community in more ways than you think. This is because many local businesses support local charities that are particularly relevant to that area, and by shopping locally you are helping to increase the number of local donations. Of course, large chain companies do support charities, and there is no right or wrong one to support, but if you would prefer to help support a local one then buying locally is a great way of doing this.
The reason local companies have such great and competitive prices is purely thanks to healthy competition. This, of course, goes for all types of companies. A marketplace of thousands of small businesses is the most reliable way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term.
Supporting your local business over their larger, international rivals is somewhat of an Australian tradition. Unlike other countries, who have allowed the chain stores and companies to completely take over their high streets, Australia has always tried to keep the focus on local businesses. We can be a stubborn country who like to keep their traditions going for as long as possible, and in this case we are right to do so.
Simply put, independent businesses are where innovation happens; it’s how things move forward and progress. Without the creativity and innovative nature of local businesses and entrepreneurs, industries wouldn’t advance at the rate that they are. Take for instance the coffee shop. Currently at the peak of popularity, chain coffee shops are actually following in the footsteps of independent coffee shops right now. They are doing what they can to blend more into the community and seem more authentic.
Local Government incentives
Local governments often provide tax incentives to entice nationally-owned companies to their communities. However, if these corporations are paying less in taxes it means that local residents are paying more. But, when you buy from local companies it lessens individual tax burdens and creates up to 75% more tax revenues for your community.
If things go wrong
It’s important to know that if anything was to go wrong you have a local company to go to, someone to talk face to face with. Large commercial companies will often provide you with a phone number for their customer service team, which is often not even in the same country, and make you wait for what seems like an eternity until you get to speak to someone. This simply is not the case with a local business. They will often prefer to meet up face to face, rather than on the phone, and find out exactly how they can help fix the problem.
This is a guest post about micro influence marketing by Philip Piletic, more about Phillip at the end of this article
Print marketing is not dead, it just smells funny
How old is content marketing? Some specialists say as old as cave drawings, but it actually started once companies began to publish their own written content in different forms: Benjamin Franklin released almanacs, Michelin published travel guides, Johnson & Johnson gave informational material to doctors.
In the first half of the 20th-century pioneers such as Procter&Gamble invested in branded radio and television content. Then the Internet Age completely changed the landscape of content marketing. First came landing pages, e-books, articles and later, blogs.
After 2000, content marketing evolved at a fast pace and new forms of content rose to fame, like forums, podcasts, videos, and webinars. Soon after that, the rise of social media offered new opportunities to engage customers, allowing them to interact with brand content and becoming brand ambassadors themselves. Nowadays, marketplaces, content hubs, and personalised experiences are the dominating trends. Brands are trying to connect with consumers on every channel and so much content is produced that returns don’t always follow the efforts.
The future of content marketing
So how about the future of content? As you could guess, it is closely linked to digital development, devices, and artificial intelligence:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) optimization is changing due to a new algorithm in Google’s ranking system, called RankBrain, which is empowered by machine learning capabilities;
Virtual assistants in the form of chatbots or voice assistants will dominate the customer experience as they are now improved with Artificial Intelligence;
Mobile Accelerated Apps have already been adopted by some global retailers in order to improve mobile loading of search results pages;
Video content of tomorrow will offer an immersive experience at home- branded Virtual Reality content is making headlines this year.
However, a small business won’t be able to afford to run complex analytics too soon, invest in accelerated mobile apps, and hire third parties to create VR content or optimize services with super-smart virtual assistants. Entrepreneurs will most likely use a combination of the most efficient old and new tricks to engage their consumers.
Looking for maximum return with a minimum of investment? Below you can find some recipes to boost your company’s content marketing efforts:
Personalization, New and Old Ways
Marketers are crowding our digital inboxes with promotional offers and last-minute buying opportunities, but their attempts are less and less successful. According to this article, MailChimp’s opening rate is less than 30%, but 92% of direct mail gets opened.
Also, print is one of the favorite marketing channels for all ages and are you even surprised? In an era that’s pushing everybody to go digital, print has become some sort of luxury. Brands that still put effort into creating a physical outlet for their audiences are making a big step towards personalisation.
However, in order to impress young audiences, improve traditional print with a connectivity element. You can include a QR code that leads to a landing page or to your social media platform. Gen Z loves to interact with advertising content. Allow them to play with physical content- insert a postcard they can keep or a puzzle. Moreover, focus on visual elements and quality graphics because those are other things that our youngest value.
Great Online User Experience
Maybe chatbots and cutting-edge website design are not affordable for you, but keep your visual style updated, with clean graphics, modern fonts, and high-quality pictures. The average attention span has shrunk to 8 seconds for teenagers today, so website sections must be short and relevant. Furthermore, detailed contact info and links to social media platforms are a must.
Even if the first blog dates back to the beginning of the new millennium, starting a blog is still a valid method to improve your ranking and make your brand visible in the digital world. But know that Google always focuses on user experience. All its algorithm updates have been designed to improve user experience, and the introduction of the Penguin, Panda, and RankBrain Algorithm updates in the past couple of years were designed to make it easier for users to find what they really need.
Now more than ever you can make the most of your posts with relevant, consumer-oriented content. However, pay special attention to linking: link only to websites which are concerned with the same niche, build backlinks to reputable websites, prioritise linking to authoritative sites and find influencers in order to develop linking opportunities to other websites and social media channels.
The Knowledge Graph
Did you notice that sidebar panel on the right of your Google search listings, containing brief information about the subject you searched? That’s the Knowledge Graph, Google’s attempt to make all big sources of information accessible from a single platform, encompassing CIA World Factbook, Wikidata, and Wikipedia. These sources also connect to offer searchers correct and brief information about different online entities.
If you want visibility with every Google search targeted at you, learn to influence the Knowledge Graph. Company representatives are allowed to suggest modifications, but these demands need to be validated. Google will scan web data of a company to check if the information matches. Keep your brand accounts updated: Wikipedia Page, Wikidata platform, Google Plus account. Moreover, mentioning social media accounts in your descriptions will result in their display on the dedicated sidebar.
Video is the Present, Video is the Future
Since YouTube’s launch in 2005, video content has become more and more important. You are probably familiar with the success of social media story tools that allow the creation of ephemeral video content and the rising popularity of vines and vlogs.
According to the Animoto’s Social Video Forecast, 92% of interviewed marketers make videos with assets they already have. If you are among them, below are some suggestions to get better at video content making
Creating Social Media Video Content
Here you can see how different generations favor different social media platforms. Creating content for every platform is a waste of time for small businesses, so focus on the preferences of your target. Don’t approach your audience just with live videos or stories about your products and services, but also with content about the people behind the business, the working premises or the production process
Optimize YouTube Content
YouTube can work like a video directory – videos posted on this platform don’t drown in loads of mixed content. But you can also optimize it using these brief suggestions: include keywords in the filename, in the title of videos and playlists, in descriptions and tags. This free analytics list will help you choose the right tool to search for keywords.
VR Is Not Unreachable
Street View, VR View, and Cardboard Camera are easy peasy instruments that can be used to film 360-degree videos. Even if high-quality VR marketing is out of your reach, you can share simple content made with simple tools on WordPress platforms or embed it on your webpage. VR plugin allows VR content to be played without the need of a headset.
All in all, old and new techniques can blend in a unique marketing approach to create a compelling experience that will conquer the hearts of your audience.
Guest article by Philip Piletic: Philip’s primary focus is a fusion of technology, small business and marketing. Freelancer and writer, in love with startups, traveling and helping others get their ideas off the ground. Unwinds with a glass of scotch and some indie rock on vinyl. You can read more of Phllip’s work on his Linkedin profile here: https://au.linkedin.com/in/philippiletic
This is the tenth post in the series of The Ten Priorities: Laying the Foundations for a Great Business and Life. The tenth Priority is about Managing the marketing. The introduction to this series on The Ten Priorities is here.
The second rule of Seth Godin is to make sure lots of people know about your great product or service.
It may seem obvious. No matter how great your products, your people, your systems, your visions and your plans are, if nobody knows how great they, there will be no business.
Many business owners will go out of their way to build a great product, but forget the second Rule. (BTW, the inverse is also true, more about the two different types of entrepreneurs here)
But both rules are equally important.
A business owner who wants to build a great business must learn that in business:
Marketing is everything, and everything is marketing.
A great business owner asks himself about the marketing dimension of every aspect of the business. Marketing is as much about the way the business goes about collecting its debts, or about the way people answer the telephones, or about its product warranty, as it is about the Facebook advertising campaign it’s running.
In fact, it can be said, that any activity in the business that does not have a marketing dimension to it, is a waste and should be stopped immediately. (more about the basics of marketing here)
When you learn to ask yourself about the marketing aspect to every decision you make, every system you develop and every action you take, every day, your business will flourish… I promise you.
Now that you’ve finished Ten Priorities, find out more about yourself and take “The Entrepreneur Type Survey”
How to grow your business is the most enduring of The 7 Big Questions. All of us business owners have felt frustrated at some stage in our journey to building a Beautiful Business The business feels stuck at one level and we are not sure how to get it to the next level.
So many misunderstandings and myths about business growth:
I have written about the general topic of business growth in many different places. I think there are a number of misunderstandings about business growth that are not helping us, as business owners, to feel better about ourselves. The first article is about that (and you can also read about the misunderstandings about growth in my book: The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun):
I believe that to grow a Beautiful Business that Stands the Test of Time you must be able to answer the question: Why does your business exist and why would anybody care? Most business owners can’t answer that question succinctly and powerfully. That’s bad, because if you don’t know why your business exists, your customers certainly won’t be able to tell, and then all it comes down to is price. Competing on price is a dog’s game, unless you’re Aldi, where price is your Purpose. The second reason you need to be able to answer the question clearly is that if you can’t, you will never master the greatest skill of effective business owners, namely the ability to say “NO”.
We’ve all heard that to grow your business you must start with Goal setting. But effective Goal setting is more complicated than you might think. Most Goals we set for ourselves and for our businesses are at best ineffective and at worst actually hinder our progress. Goals are often arbitrary, unrealistic, and unrelated to what really matters in our lives. A Goal to make $2 million revenue is an arbitrary and meaningless number, why $2 million? why not $1,956,384.13, or $2,163,927.46 for example? And so what when you reach the goal? Will you be better off somehow? What if you fall short? By $100, or by $1,000, or by $100,000? Does that mean you are a failure? Goal setting really makes a difference, as long as you understand that Goals are like a compass, they provide a direction on your journey, they are not the destination.
Marketing is about creating opportunities to sell your stuff. As such, I fervently believe that:
Marketing is everything and everything is marketing
And it is. To grow your business you have to look at every aspect of your business. Marketing is about advertising campaigns, and social media and designing your logo and your website, but it’s also about how you answer the telephone, about your pricing policies, about ensuring that your customers are happy with what you sell them. It’s about how you dress and about how you present your quotes and about your Public Relations strategies and about your warranty return policies. One of the greatest marketing strategies is a relentless focus on quality in everything the business does, in order to “Create Raving Fans”, because if your customers are all Raving Fans, they will actually do your marketing for you.
I don’t mean to imply that online marketing is somehow something different from all other forms of marketing, it isn’t. But it is useful to pay special attention to online engagement and marketing to build and grow your business, because it has become such an important aspect of any marketing strategy. Whether your business is a cafe or a building company or a law practice, or it imports widgets or makes whatsits, you can not ignore a bunch of different forms of online marketing. Email marketing, content marketing, Search Engine Optimisation, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Engagement, Social Media Marketing, online PR, online reputation management (The ubiquitous star ratings), video marketing. The list is near endless and constantly changing.
You could easily argue (and I have in one of the articles I refer to below), that the principles of marketing haven’t changed, we’ve just got a bunch of new tools to do it with. And at one level that’s true, people still want to get to know, like and trust you before they will do business with you. But on another level things have changed drastically. Ten years ago, you’d give someone a business card with your web address on it and they would immediately want to know if you also had a bricks and mortar store. These days they want to know you’ve got a high functioning web presence and that you’ve got a presence on Facebook and on Google local and ideally a bunch of 5 start ratings on Yelp and Trip Adviser. Whether or not you have a bricks and mortar presence, simply doesn’t matter anymore. Online engagement in all forms must be part of your marketing strategies or you will not be taken seriously.
That’s a quote I saw hanging on the wall at a big office once, many years ago. And it’s true. No business growth, no business, without sales. No matter how great your product is, how beautiful your logo is, how smart your website is, or how wonderful your employee conditions are, if you’re not selling, the business will cease to exist.
Sales is often seen as a subset of marketing, but I’m giving it it’s own section here, because I think of marketing as getting the customers to your door and sales as actually getting them to hand over money. Lead generation v lead conversion. Sales is about skill and it’s about mindset and systems and above all, it’s about making it easy for people. And this last word is the key to the whole shebang. It’s always about people. The old saying is:
People do business with people they know like and trust
You must always remember it’s about people first and foremost and in small business especially it’s about people in both directions: People do business with people. Your whole approach to sales, especially in small business, all aspects of it must be built on a people to people philosophy.
A business without a Plan achieves everything in it
business growth, planning, strategy
Nothing in other words. Your business growth depends on planning. No human endeavour ever amounted to anything without a plan. Yet planning is guessing. It can never be anything more than guessing, because we can not know the future. So if planning is guessing, why does it matter so much and how can we do it so it works? There are two important answers to those questions:
1) You must understand that there are two entirely different types of business plans: Internal Plans, and External Plans. External plans are designed to impress others about your business and form part of the documentation to obtain a loan or other form of funding or make a proposal to a third party of some sort.
Internal Plans are documents designed to help the business focus. They are combined with meaningful goals (see above) and they help people in their day to day decision making processes. Internal and external plans have different functions and are presented quite differently as well.
2) Planning is a verb. It’s not static, it’s an activity that never stops. As soon as one plan is created, we start again. John Lennon said: Life’s what happens when we’re making other plans. Planning is like that, we make a bunch of assumptions and plan our actions accordingly. Then we go ahead and check reality as it unfolds and make changes to our plans to suit the new realities, every day, every week, every month and every year. Business Plans that work, that make a difference, are living documents.
Customer service is also a subset of marketing of course, if done well it leads to more business from those customers, and as I said above, everything is marketing and marketing is everything, but it’s worth mentioning separately, because of the concept of Raving Fans. Ken Blanchard wrote a little book that said it best in the title: Create Raving Fans and have your customers do your marketing for you. It’s a great little book and there’s a link below to get yourself a copy of it.
The principle of Ken Blanchard’s book is that your business should always be working to do one better for your customers than they expect. If you do so, your customers will become your advocates (Raving Fans) and advocates will go out of their way to help your business grow. They will talk to their friends about you, they will drag their colleagues to your door. They will defend your business against the competition and best of all, they won’t quibble about price. If your business focuses on turning it’s customers into Raving Fans, you will be able to slash your marketing budget in half, over time, for a better result.
Grow your business with systems and quality improvement
My clients often ask me to help them grow their business, and I often tell them to stop worrying about that. Getting more customers is actually the easy part. The hard part of business is:
To deliver what you say you will
By the time you say you will
For the price you say you will
At the quality you say you will…
With a smile
If you can do that all the time, the customers will come flocking to your door and you won’t have to spend much money on marketing (for one thing because you’ll be creating Raving Fans, see the previous topic). And right now, you may well be doing all those things, with a smile, but the trick is to be able to keep doing that as the business starts to grow.
I can’t tell you how many businesses I have seen struggle and fail in my years in business who couldn’t maintain their product or service quality and dependability and price, at scale. Once the business starts to grow and you, yourself, are no longer in charge of every step in the process, things start going wrong. Quality becomes inconsistent, delivery times become unreliable, prices go up or profitability suffers and your smile starts to disappear. Once the rot sets in like that, your reputation starts to suffer and customers start to look elsewhere.
There are only two answers to this dilemma: Either, don’t grow, stay small, learn to say NO and say it all the time… Or systematise. Developing systems for all aspects of the operation is the only answer. Systems for how the phone is answered, systems for estimating, systems for quality checking, systems for calendar management, systems for inventory management, systems for callbacks and warranty repairs. Systems for marketing, systems for hiring and firing etc etc. Above all, systems allow you to create Continuous Improvement Loops into your organisation. And continuous improvement is the Holy Grail of business. It’s what made companies like Toyota great.
Inventory management is a big specialised topic, and it’s really a subset of the systems section above. There are whole management libraries written about the various philosophical approaches to managing stock when building and growing a Great business that Stands the Test of Time. My earliest lessons of inventory management came from the owner of a big hardware store I dealt with a lot in my days as a builder, Colin. One of the reasons I bought so much of my material from Colin was that he always had everything in stock. Colin clearly knew what it took to create business growth, because his business was booming.
I asked Colin once if keeping such high stock levels of everything a builder such as myself might need from time to time was economical for him. I imagined that it was a very expensive way to run a business, having all that money tied up in timber and hardware and bits and bobs. His answer was:
If I don’t stock it I can’t sell it.
I have often thought about that statement in the years since, now that most operations run on the principle of “just in time”. Supermarkets have made an art form of stocking just enough and not a jar more than required, to minimise shelf apace and inventory cost.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that Colin got all my business for 20 years and most Sydney builders had an account with him, because everything we needed was always ready to be picked up.
Grow your business with hiring, firing and engaging people
Michael Gerber in his famous book “The E-Myth” wrote that it’s impossible to manage people and hence great businesses focus on systems, and manage those instead. And that’s certainly what grew McDonalds into the enormous business it is today, no argument. And as I’ve written elsewhere before, if you set out to make as much money as possible from selling restaurant food, it is undeniably the case that the McDonald’s model is the one to emulate. But, I can’t tell you how happy I am that not everyone in the restaurant industry wants to build McDonalds, because the world (and my palate) would be the poorer. The same philosophy can be applied to any industry.
If you’d like to build and grow a unique business, a business with an individual character, you’re going to have to manage people. You’re going to have to get good at putting the right people on the bus, sitting in the right seats, facing in the right direction and also know which people to get off the bus. If you don’t learn how to find and keep the right people and get them to do great work, your business will always struggle.
That means developing hiring policies, being prepared to hire people who might be better than you are at certain things, learning how to do great interviews, implementing induction and development training programs. It means learning how to coach your people, encourage them and hold them accountable. And it means learning about effective delegating. It means doing the HR admin and compliance effectively, writing job descriptions and doing performance reviews. It means learning what it takes to be a leader and it means being prepared to take the tough decisions when required, and take them quickly and respectfully.
To build and grow a Great business that Stands the Test of Time, you can’t afford to be left behind. The pace of change and innovation is relentless and what was ok even a few years ago is no longer ok now. Not long ago it was still fine for a cafe to have a sign saying “cash only”, but in 2018, you’ll lose a lot of business if you don’t accept cards in payment. Even in a business as simple as mine, people expect me to be able to accept online bookings. Cloud computing combined with smart phone technology and advanced GPS systems mean that customers now expect to be informed that their plumber is on its way and can be expected to pull up in front of their house in 13 minutes.
You don’t need to be Uber or AirBandB to implement new technology and come up with new ways of doing business. I just bought a house in a different state of Australia. The real estate agent gave me a private showing of the house via Skype. I engaged the conveyancer, the building inspector and a surveyor all without setting a foot in the house or the state.
A client of mine with a creative marketing agency has a team of designers and copywriters and marketing assistants all over the world and she rarely even meets her clients face to face. Another client with a small supermarket chain has technology in his stores that allow him to see what’s going on in any part of any store and to get live access to each of the store’s Point of Sale systems. He’s also just implement a bunch of tablet screens in his stores allowing people to find dinner recipes incorporating the fresh vegetables he has on special.
And all this stuff is only the beginning. It won’t be long before artificial intelligence is integrated in doctor’s surgeries and lawyer’s offices, and copywriting agencies. If you think that technology and innovation isn’t going to have a massive impact on the way you do business and how to create business growth, you are kidding yourself.
How to avoid the Spray-and-Pray approach to your marketing strategy
I had a interesting experience at a networking and business building event a few days ago. We met over breakfast and there were various activities designed to get to know each other and to support each other in the development of our businesses.
One of the exercises we did was a group hot seat, where one of our fellow business owners presented himself and his business to the group and asked for help with his greatest challenges.
The business owner in question, let’s call him Adam, told us about all the amazing projects he’s been involved in and how smart the solutions were that he implemented for his clients.
But Adam also shared that he sometimes found it difficult to find new clients.
So we asked him who his ideal clients are, how we would recognise them if we tripped over them and how we could introduce him to them effectively.
Designing solutions for the challenges
In response, Adam, told us he’s worked with government departments, global machinery manufacturers as well as dog kennels and everything in between. He told us how he sits down with business owners and gets to really understand their businesses and challenges, designs solutions to resolve those challenges and implements the solutions for them.
All very well of course, but it didn’t help us much in our quest to support Adam. Most service based businesses do exactly that, they find out about the challenges a client has and then they offer a solution. But we never really got any further with Adam. Every time we asked him to get more specific he gave us more details of the wide range and varied types of clients he’d worked with. Although Adam left us impressed with his experience, his knowledge, and his expertise, at the end of the 15 minute hotseat, the group was no closer to understanding how we could help him find more new clients.
How can we help you?
In the end we left Adam to ponder the following question:
“Let’s say someone wanted to help you, really help you, and they were prepared to set an hour aside today, to do exactly that. Further more, let’s say that person had database of 6000 direct connections in LinkedIn. All business owners, largely in Australia and most of them in Sydney. Amongst such a database, it seems likely for there to be 5 or 10 people who are actual prospects for Adam.
Obviously, it’s not possible for such a person, to send a direct email to all 6000 people in a kind of “spray and pray” marketing outreach. So the question we left Adam to ponder was: How can such a person go about identifying those 5 to 10 perfect introductions for you from amongst the database of 6000?
Because you see, Adam really struggled to answer that question. Adam couldn’t tell us how to filter out 5 or 10 people in such a database of LinkedIn connections.
And I think most of us have that challenge. We don’t actually know how to identify our prospects.
Who are my prospects?
I find it difficult in my own business as well sometimes. I’ve thought about it a lot and often, and the best I can do is this:
I’m looking to connect with business owners
That are in design (Architecture, Interior design, Graphic design) technical services (IT, Communications, Software and Web development) or trades (Building trades, Motor trades, Hospitality trades)
With between 3 and 20 employees
And that have operated the business for 2+ years
Confronted with the same question we left Adam to ponder, using the above criteria I could narrow the search down a little and have a slightly more focused list, but there’s probably still a lot more than a 100 people in that database of 6000 that meet all the criteria.
A direct introduction strategy is very powerful but it can only work with a very limited number of people.
So why does it matter?
Well, I do want to help Adam, he’s a good guy and very good at what he does, and as it happens I do have a database of 6000 direct connections, but I simply don’t know how to help him.
And what’s more, because Adam isn’t clear on who his clients are, he can’t craft a clear marketing message himself either and he can’t focus his own messages on the right people.
If Adam isn’t clear, his prospects won’t be either.
Most of us face that dilemma.
For me, it’s clear that small building and trades contractors, builders, electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters, architects and engineers are absolutely the people I should to be talking to. Those kinds of people are right in my sweet spot. So if you know any of those, I’d love you to make an introduction, and I’ll send them my weekly tips.
But how would you answer the question we asked Adam to ponder?
This is a guest post by Philip Piletic, more about Phillip at the end of this article
Successful promotional campaigns might seem random, but here’s 6 key factors that you should consider
Here’s one: Have pens made up with your company logo and information on them, and hand them out everywhere!
“Wait – what’s creative about that?”
Nothing! But pens are effective largely because they are useful. That is a huge asset to any promotional product. Nearly one hundred percent of Fortune 500 companies and the fastest-growing startups give away promotional pens. So, before we start getting creative, we are reminded that “effective” is the goal.
Creativity is often a dynamic component of a successful promotional product or campaign; it can also make it quirky in a bad way, forced or disjointed and ultimately unsuccessful. Watch some of the lowest-rated commercials for visual proof of this concept. By the way, going for the “so bad it’s great” angle is risky.
Studying these success stories will get your creativity flowing.
Useful & Effective
Logo Cups that Change Colors
Add something cold to these cups, and they change colors. Made in about a dozen warm/cold color combinations, the cups can be printed with the logo, message and information you want to share. These cups work best at outdoor events like festivals, concerts and fairs when there’s enough light to see them change.
Reason it works: It’s a novelty. The recipient will find it interesting and then play “show and tell” with it, “Hey, Jason, look at this…Serena, watch what this cup does.” You’ve produced enthusiasts who will demo the cup, holding up your branding information for others to see. The novelty is key. People don’t go round saying, “Will, see this ordinary pen I just got!” We’ve made the case for pens, but if the item can be exceptional, it will get a wider audience.
Silly Bobblehead Pens
OK, then, here’s an extraordinary pen – the pen with a suction cup cap at one end and a ridiculous bobblehead at the other. Highlighters with the same scheme are produced too. You can take this idea to the next level of fun (and expense) with the bobblehead pen that talks! The one we came across says, “Hey, don’t forget to smile, laugh and have a great day” when its button is pushed.
Reason it works: The items are useful, puts a smile on peoples’ faces and makes them want to show them off, right along with your company information.
Erasers that Save Memories
Erasers get rid of stuff…like Alzheimer’s Disease erases memories. Alzheimer’s New Zealand enjoyed a successful campaign by fitting real erasers around USB drives, and printed, “Alzheimer’s Erases Your Memories. Save Them.” On one side of the eraser. The other side featured the organisation’s logo and contact info.
Reason it works: It’s useful, so will be kept, but it has become a widely used example because there is an immediately grasped connection between the effects of the disease and an eraser.
Bendable Yoga Straws
The Y+ Yoga Center in Shanghai, China had straws printed with a woman in yoga gear positioned right on the straw’s bendable region. You get the picture. Every time the straw bends, the yogoist shows off her flexibility in a new position.
Reason it works: Like the Alzheimer’s campaign, the “get it” factor is immediate. Take time to think about, and brainstorm with your team, commonly used items that could be used to produce an immediate connection with your products or services. Thinking is hard work, but it is free and can yield amazingly creative, fun and successful promotional product and campaign ideas.
Ketchup Splatter Detergent Packs
Vantage Detergent, a brand produced in Brazil, was marketed using small packs of detergent in the color and stylized shape of a ketchup spill. The packs, about 100,000 of them, were divided among restaurants in São Paulo, and were snatched up by customers in three days.
Reason it works: The colorful packets encapsulated a standard marketing strategy – identify a problem, and provide the solution.
Putting it All Together
Let’s compile our list of keywords, principles really, that give tremendous guidance for choosing or designing promotional products and using them successfully as part of your marketing mix:
Connection [between the item and your product or service]
Build as many of these into your marketing efforts, including the use of promotional products, and you will enjoy far more hits than misses. This is especially true when you tailor your product, product design and campaign strategy to your target demographics. Take an hour today by yourself or with your team, and think, think, think your way to creative promotional products and campaigns that will be effective. That’s the first principle and the one that will most affect your bottom line.
Guest article by Philip Piletic: Philip’s primary focus is a fusion of technology, small business and marketing. Freelancer and writer, in love with startups, traveling and helping others get their ideas off the ground. Unwinds with a glass of scotch and some indie rock on vinyl. You can read more of Phllip’s work on his Linkedin profile here: https://au.linkedin.com/in/philippiletic
Education is the first step if you’re competing against the Do-It-Yourselver
In August last year everything suddenly came together for me. In a period of 6 weeks I signed up 7 new clients. I was very excited. Finally, after all the years of pushing and pulling, trying every approach under the sun to market myself to my target clients, it suddenly all fell into place. I even found myself starting to get concerned how I might handle things if the deluge continued.
But I needn’t have worried. Since then it’s gone back to drought. I’ve had virtually no serious inquiries in the 7 months or so since then.
And the thing is, I do do great work (my clients tell me so frequently and I have lots of glowing testimonials here for example) and increasingly, lots of people do know about me. And yet, after 12 years I continue to have these lengthy drought periods.
Honestly, It’s doing my head in every now and then.
I’m reminded, that sometimes, things aren’t quite as simple as those two time honoured rules imply. If you have a blocked toilet, or you want to go to a restaurant, or buy a fridge, a car or a home, those two rules apply without exception. All that the marketing and sales strategies of the plumbing company have to achieve, is that the client is convinced that this plumbing company will fix the blocked toilet quicker, better, cleaner, friendlier or cheaper than any of the other plumbing companies out there.
But there’s a third secret
But things get a little trickier if you are an architect who designs and manages renovations for home owners, or an HR consultant who helps small business owners manage staffing and recruitment, or a PR agent who helps small business owners gain publicity, or an SEO consultant who helps small business get found on Google, or a wedding planner who helps people have a great wedding. If you are a professional like that you have a third thing you must do.
Not only do lots of people have to know about you, you also have to convince your prospects that hiring a professional is much better than, doing it themselves, DIY. Your services cost money over and above the actual thing they want doing. Recruitment services for example can easily cost an additional 10% on top of the wage of the new employee. The PR agent might cost you $3000 per month or more. The architect might charge upwards of $25,000 on top of the build-cost of the project.
Your client is your competitor
You’re not competing with other professionals, rather the first competitor you have to face is the actual client. The client needs to be convinced that they really shouldn’t go DIY. They shouldn’t try and manage their own renovations, run their Facebook advertising campaigns, organise their own wedding, or find and hire a new employee.
I strike a similar issue with some of my potential clients. Most small business owners think they ought to be able to do it themselves. To go looking for help from someone like me, can be a significant investment and can feel like admitting that they’re not upto the job of being a business owner.
Nothing is further from the truth of course, my most successful clients have always been the ones who have no hesitation in asking for help, but it’s often a hurdle I have to overcome with small business owners.
The recent drought has reminded me, that the first marketing step for people like the architect, the PR agent, the wedding planner and myself, is to educate the clients.
The PR agent has to educate his clients that having a PR agent (not necessarily him personally) take charge of gaining publicity for the client is vastly more effective than DIY. The architect has to educate her clients that engaging an architect leads to much better renovations than DIY. The wedding planner has to educate her clients that the wedding is going to be so much more fun when a wedding planner is running the show than DIY. And I have to educate my clients about how a business coach can help transform your business, rather than DIY.
I’ve actually known about this issue for a long time, but forgot over the past few years. It’s time to focus on education again. In the next months I am going to create a bunch of case studies and stories in article and video form to help small business owners understand that engaging someone like me (not me specifically) can transform their business and their lives.
I suggest that you think about the question as well: Who is your greatest competitor? If it’s actually the clients themselves, you should change your marketing strategies to focus on education first… I promise you.