Small Biz Talk

Running a Small Business Doesn’t Have to Be So Complicated

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If you run a small business, chances are you’ve read or heard a thousand times from all the best business books, classrooms, seminars and business coaches that in order to run a successful business you must do many of the following things: have a marketing plan, a business plan, researched competition, have completed a SWAT analysis, a system for tracking leads, a CRM program, created a employee manual, an exit strategy and so on. If you are like me, your head starts spinning when you are plagued with all the things you’ve got to do to be successful. I think sometimes all the business leaders out there make running a small business complicated. It doesn’t have to be!

Don’t Try To Keep Up With the Big Guys

Attending seminars and filling up your notepad or notebook app with pages of todos and goals is ok if you like that sort of thing. Maybe you listen better by doing that. I sure don’t. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve just seen a lot of businesses struggle to make it because they are trying too hard to follow all the “rules of success.” They try to keep up with the big players in their industry. They want to be successful, make more money, work less, look and feel big. They do this by overcomplicating what it takes to run a small business.

Just growing a company large doesn’t mean you will be profitable and have a healthy business. I know a few businesses that run small companies under the “business success radar” and are more profitable: make more money than the big guys.

Stop Comparing and Succeed

If there is one takeaway from this blog post, I’d hope it would be this: stop comparing your business to everyone else out there, be yourself and begin moving your business forward. Instead of trying to follow every jot and tittle of what it takes to run a business (that you’ve heard works) just do one thing that you feel comfortable with right now.

If your customer hires you because your brushwork looks and feels like glass when finished, then start there: deliver those same results to every customer. Make ever customer’s home look the best. If customers hire your company because they feel they can trust you, don’t every let them down. Make it your goal to focus on 100% customer satisfaction with all your employees. Share that vision with each employee and make sure they all get it!

All the other “stuff” that you hear about can have its place at the right time. Setting goals, working with budgets, tracking leads, all important things. Just take it one step at a time. Slow down, enjoy your work, and focus on making your business the best it can possibly be.

P.S. Don’t just take my word for it. Order a copy or download to your digital device a copy of REWORK by my friends at 37 Signals. It goes against everything you’ve ever heard about running a business. When you get the urge to write out your action plan, stop. Just re-read and enjoy it.

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What To Do When You Get an Email from an “SEO Expert”

Posted by | Small Biz Talk, The Obvious | No Comments

Do you get emails weekly or even daily from people who are guaranteeing they can get you onto the top of Google search engine? I receive them now and then and my clients get them all the time. I have a good laugh when I read over some of these. Here is one I found very humorous. I cut out a portion of the email and deleted my client’s URL for the sake of privacy issues, but here are the highlights:

The person then leaves his full name and phone number, no company email or web address about his company. The email my client received above is first of all not accurate. There are far more than “two Google back links” and his website does show up very well in search results. He has hired a reputable SEO company in the past that ended up being very beneficial for him. So this company definitely did not do their research. The thing I found amusing was the ending paragraph which reads, “I found your site in the Google search…” That pretty much narrows it down right there. Whomever wrote this email found my client’s site using Google search and then tells him the site in not ranked well at all. Folks, when you get emails telling you your site sucks on search engines and gives you a bunch of data as to why everything you are doing is wrong, consider this as SPAM. Don’t trust these emails.

When to Trust
Now, if your website really doesn’t show up well on the search engines, don’t get tempted to call up a person of one of those bogus emails. Make sure any email or phone call you get is a legitimate company. Make sure they have a quality website and that IT RANKS WELL. That is right. Do a few search terms yourself and see if that SEO company shows up high for their own search terms.

Base CRM Offering More Features and Paid Plans (Now Zendesk Sell)

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Update: November 2018: Base has joined with Zendesk Support. Their new name is Zendesk Sell. Their pricing structure has changed as well. It spans from $19, $49, $99 and $199 per user. I use the words Base CRM in the article below, written in 2012.

Base CRM (affiliate link) is still one of my favorite small business CRMs on the market. The features, user interface and design are high quality and simple to operate. Base CRM is a lightweight Customer Relationship Management program hosted in the “cloud.” It does what most small business sales people need it to do. The main reason I like Base CRM is its integration with mobile devices and Google Apps for Business. If you have an Android or iPhone, Base CRM has native applications built for each platform. A salesperson can truly be on the go entering sales information and/or looking up contact information from anywhere. Read More

What’s Keeping You From Blogging?

Posted by | Small Biz Talk, The Obvious | 5 Comments

We all have hobbies and habits. Some of us like playing golf, running, reading the morning newspaper, weekend rides, even playing around on our new techie gadgets. How much time do we spend doing these activities each day or week? Here is my challenge as we enter the spring season. What is keeping you from adding something new to your weekly routine? How about starting and maintaining a blog? Already have one but the last post was 2011? Keep reading.

So what’s keeping you from blogging? Is it that you are not sure what to write about? Or are you afraid you’ll run out of ideas? Maybe you are not a good writer and are afraid of what people might think when you misspell “except” when it should be “accept.” I can think of a dozen more reasons why most small businesses don’t blog.  I think the number one reason is that small businesses don’t make the time to fit in this very important marketing idea. There is room for everyone still to begin and continue to write what they are passionate about.

Has it worked for me? I’ve been writing about a blog a week for six years and believe me, I sometimes want to quit. I, like you, run a small business, volunteer at my local church as a trustee, am one of the managers of our church building project and raise 4 small kids 6 and under. Do I have writers block? Do I sometimes want to stop blogging? Yes! Quite often to be honest. I have the same fears my clients have but have to stuff away that head trash. Has it helped my business? In more ways than 1. It has given me opportunities to do public speaking and travel all over the country, gain new clients and grow my business without spending any money on traditional advertising. Actually, I did just spent $35 when I reordered business cards! 🙂 Ok almost no money on traditional advertising. The point is, if you personally will not blog, you’ve got to get someone to start blogging on a regular basis and be faithful to continue to write for your audience. Don’t stop! Press on!

Still Need Help?

If you are not sure where to begin, fill out my quick contact form and let’s talk. I’ll point you in the right direction. As always, I recommend blogging in house before outsourcing.

Photo credit: Woman in Thrisis

Narrow Down Your Service Area

Posted by | Marketing Advice, Small Biz Talk | 4 Comments

Most service companies would love to be well known all over their city, even a large metropolitan area. In order for that to really happen, one would need a substantial marketing budget. Instead of trying to market all over your city, it is best to target your market closer into your key area. Take a look at where you do most of your work. Ask questions like, “Where do most of my leads come from?” and “Where do my most profitable jobs take place?” Look into the sizes of those cities or towns and see if there is enough work for a company of your size to dominate the area.  Instead of writing down your top 10 cities, start with 2 to 3. How can my company be the #1 painter, roofer, plumber in this city? After you answer these questions, begin doing research on how you can begin to build your brand awareness. Your budget should include some branding items such as: community events, association newsletters, little league, Boy Scout troops, yearbooks, marathons, chambers and so on.

By narrowing down your service area, you will begin to build a stronger brand and grow your company. As you grow, you can have goals to expand into other towns, but not until you are #1 in your key service areas.

How do you build brand awareness in your area now? What is working for you? A penny for your thoughts?

Writing Before and After Blogs

Posted by | Marketing Advice, Small Biz Talk | 4 Comments

I’ve heard these statements numerous times, “I am not sure what to write about!” or, “I may run out of ideas.” and even “Nobody wants to read about painting!” What is my response to these comments? “Head trash!” It is head trash. Now I doubt most of your customers or the general web visitors will be signing up to read your weekly blog post, but I can guarantee they are reading good content online and researching answers to their home improvement questions. So get rid of the head trash and start writing. Use good content and answer questions to your audience. Don’t worry about how many people subscribe or comment.

Writing before and after blogs is probably the easiest way to start blogging if you don’t know what to write about or where to begin. You have a very visual business.  Your customers want to see the work before it began and what it looks like when finished. Mrs. Franklin wants to know what her neighbor Beth chose for her dining room walls or what type of countertop she selected for her kitchen remodel. This is the perfect opportunity to write up your story. Talk about the project, the location (keywords), what the customer had in mind, how the project went, materials used, colors selected and much more. End with a quote from the client (or a video). Take the blog, once it is posted and submit it to your Facebook or Google + pages (if you decide to use those channels).

We live in an age of information. People want to know something? They look it up online. Be the place that they come to find the answers and get inspired. Have you seen success writing blogs? A great follow up is to read Marcus Sheridan’s post on a similar subject, Why Facebook and Twitter Don’t Mean a Dang Thing for Online Success for Some Industries”

Slow Down Professor

Posted by | Marketing Advice, Small Biz Talk, Small Business Solutions | 2 Comments

Too Many Social Networking Sites!

Did you know there are over 200 active social networking sites on the web? What do I mean by active? Popular and still in business! This number does not even come close to all the small, no-name social networking sites that exist, probably numbering in the thousands. The big name sites are familiar to most of us: Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Yelp, Linkedin, delicious, XING, Windows, Live, Tumblr, and MySpace.

“Whoa! Slow down, professor! I’m trying to keep up!” Isn’t that what you are thinking at this point? If you are like me, you’re overwhelmed. It seems like every week I get invites to join a new social networking site. Sometimes I’ll join for a little while just to see what is going on and what it is about. Yet many of the sites I join won’t last. So what should you as a small business owner do when faced with so many choices of social media sites?

Two years ago, I was a fan of having one’s brand on the top 10 social networking sites. I thought like many online marketing guys did, “I want my clients to be #1 everywhere!” Yet I realized that good social media etiquette means to be real with people and connect as a human being. I now believe that by having your company brand on too many sites makes it almost impossible to

  1. Be faithful to keep up all of them
  2. Keep it real. Each social networking site has a different audience. Not all your company updates and blog posts should be posted on all these different sites. At some point, you’ll get discouraged that no one is engaging with you in return and you’ll burn out with too many posts and updates.

Keep Things Simple

My suggestion is to step back and look at what you are doing. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish by marketing my business online or using social media tools? The primary purpose should be listening to and engaging with your ideal customers.

Find out what your customers want to talk about, learn about, read about, watch, and then give it to them. Find out who they are and where they spend their time. If most of your customers seem to spend time on Facebook (800 million users now… chances are they do) then focus your attention on Facebook and pull back on Linkedin, Twitter and the other hundred sites you’ve started to date. If you are a commercial contractor who typically deals with business people, Linkedin is definitely for you. If you are doing market research and trying to see what the word is on the street, or do some networking, check out Twitter.

When The Dust Settles, My Personal Pick

So what is one change I’ve made in 2011? My job is in marketing. So I will still be testing out social networking sites and occasionally you’ll see me on multiple channels. Yet I’ve narrowed my focus to primarily using blogging and Facebook to engage with friends, as well as current and potential customers. I get most feedback from blogging and Facebook. Also, Facebook has done a fantastic job creating THE social network.

Google is trying to outperform FB by creating Google +. It will not stick. When the dust settles, Facebook is here to stay. Why? Because the baby boomers and even many in the silent generation are learning how to use Facebook–not Google+, Twitter or the others.  So I continue to spend a few hours a week writing blogs and posting useful information here and on Facebook, distancing myself from many of the other social sites.

What about you? What do you think about all these social media sites that keep popping up? Have you tried out Google+?  What changes have you made this year in your business with regard to social networking?

Servant Leadership

Posted by | Small Biz Talk, The Obvious | 4 Comments

I subscribe to a monthly publication called TableTalk by Ligoneer Ministries. If you are one who enjoys reading the Bible and wants to dig deeper, I’d highly recommend TableTalk. Even if you have no interest in the Bible, the following ideas might be very helpful to you. During my morning reading recently, I was intrigued by the topic of discussion. It was called, “Leading By Example” and based on a Bible passage from Ephesians 6:9,

“Masters, do the same to them [employees], and stop your threating, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with Him.”

TableTalk ends each devotional with what is called Coram Deo (living before the face of God). Let me quote the devotions complete Coram Deo, since it cannot be summarized,

“President Eisenhower once observed that, “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Good leaders do not lead by maintaining uncertain, ever-changing standards or by demeaning good workers. Instead, they serve those whom they supervise by encouraging them and setting a vision that all can seize and run with gladly.”

My Dad’s Example

Today’s study was encouraging to me as it reminded me how my dad led by example when I worked with him at Chism Brothers Painting. He is not a difficult business owner. He shows respect and kindness to his employees. He makes sure that each employee’s voice is heard and that he is approachable at any time. One important thing my dad did while I worked with him is he’d have regular breakfast meetings one on one with his crew leaders. I knew his painters appreciated this time with him. Every now and then a painter would think there was a better position or job out there in the world and they’d go exploring. Many times, those men came back asking for their jobs back.

I remember one man in particular who decided to work for my dad’s competitor. It lasted 2 very long weeks before he begged for his job back. My dad gave it back, and this man still works for Chism Brothers many years later. Once back, he realized just how well the leadership led by example. He felt that he was part of a team. My dad actually got paint on his hands now and then. The men respected him because he was a superstar painter. He also shared his vision and ideas regularly with his employees. He’d ask for their feedback and insight when making certain business decisions. He also rewarded them generously for their hard work. I’ve spoken to some business owners that only give bonus money to employees if they brought a job in under budget. Although my dad watches the numbers carefully, he did not nickel-and-dime his staff. I think that was the reason his company was profitable at the year’s end even with a few unprofitable jobs. His painters knew he was a fair and honest man so they worked hard for Dad.

Marketing and Leadership

One thing I’ve discovered the past few years is a disconnect between most contractors and their employees. Most employees just want to swing a hammer or put paint on the walls. They’d rather not put door hangers around the neighborhood, ask for a referral or look for extra work. In most cases I think it is because many of them just think of themselves as technicians: “I’m just a painter!” or “Ah I’m just a guy who installs cabinets.”

So how do you change this attitude in your employees? My suggestion is to follow my dad’s policy: lead by example, share your vision, connect with your employees just as much as you do with your customers. Spend the time it takes to focus on involving your employees in more aspects of your business and they will begin to play a bigger part in your company. Your field employees do not typically intimidate homeowners. They are the ones who can really connect and get more business. If you reward them for their efforts and you make them feel important, I believe you’ll see your company grow. Not all employees are motivated by money, so find out what motivates them: try to shape their work experience in a way that they want to do the things you ask of them.

How do you motivate employees in your business? What are your thoughts about this topic? I’d love to hear your story and feedback.

For Further Reading on Leading by Serving, see John 13:12-15

Door Knocking: A Bold Approach

Posted by | Marketing Advice, Small Biz Talk | 14 Comments

Twice in the last week I’ve had young men knocking at my front door, trying to sign me up for a free estimate for roofing, siding and/or windows. Overall, I was impressed with both guys that came to the door. They were professional, and not too pushy. Having just moved into a home that was already in good shape, and since my brother-in-law is a professional roofer, I declined the offer, at this time.

Before the young man left, I wanted to encourage him a little. I wished him all the best in his efforts, and I asked how the work was going: “Not too great…got 2 leads so far today.”  And this was at 5:30 in the evening!  If I were the marketing manager of this company, there are a couple of tweaks I would make to try to improve the image and closing prospects of these canvassers.

  1. Dress Code The young man who came to my door was probably a college student. He was dressed in shorts and a polo shirt–not too shabby. However, he did not have any company apparel. As a homeowner, I’d like to know this is a legitimate company. He told me the name of his company but when we were done talking, I forgot the name. Tip: Don’t go cheap if you have people walking the neighborhoods! Make sure they present your company well.
  2. Leave Behind Material: I was not interested in their service right then and there. Plus I was in the middle of wrapping up work…so it was not a good time. However, I was impressed with the canvasser.  He was good, yet he did not leave me his card or a brochure. Tip If someone is busy or in a hurry, at least leave them with your information. With your business card or brochure in their home, you never know when a homeowner will run across it again and call you or look you up online (hopefully they will be impressed with your online image too).
  3. Better Organization: The two guys that came to my door were from the same company within days of each other. Tip When doing canvassing, make sure you have a good road map for your sales team. I didn’t like explaining twice we didn’t need their service, especially at dinner time.
  4. Use Your Own People More: Hiring canvassers can be a good idea if you hire the right people who are personal and “closers.” Those folks are hard to find. Sometimes just using your own people is the best way to canvass a neighborhood. Tip Better yet, use the employees who are truly doing the work in the neighborhood. These guys are not born salesman, meaning they don’t have sales training. While homeowners are often “put-off” by a typical salesperson, a painter in his whites or a carpenter with his red wing boots and saw-dusted hat is very approachable. He can take a break from his project and canvass 5-10 (or more) homes and actually point out where he is working. He can ask the homeowner if he or she would like an estimate while his company is working nearby. This approach is the way to go, because homeowners can look outside their front door and see that work is truly being done at their neighbor’s home.

Do you have any tips on canvassing neighborhoods? What has worked for you?

Your Competition & Your Trade Secrets

Posted by | Small Biz Talk, The Obvious | 8 Comments

I could not agree more with small business owner, Marcus Sheridan, on his latest blog post, Social Media, Trade Secrets, and Why You Should’t Give a Rip about the Competition.” Marcus owns a pool company in Northern Virginia. He sells pools!  That’s it! He also blogs more than any service company owner I know and shares his wisdom. It is true, his blogs are public and open for all his competitors to view. All of his best kept secrets are now on the public domain for all to see. Is he losing jobs to his competitors and shooting himself in the foot? Just the opposite. Take the time to read his blog and think about how you can be the expert in your contracting business.

Let me know your thoughts after reading the blog by posting them below or shooting me an email.

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