Small Biz Talk

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.

Burned Out With Social Media

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

I’ve been noticing in the past few months that a number of service companies are getting burned out with web marketing, blogging and (especially) Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that it is a lot of work and things to juggle. A few years ago, you could put a blog or a post on auto pilot, sit back and let the leads come pouring in. Those days are over. The fad of social media seems to be settling down a little, but it still is a reality that will be around for years to come. Social media is relational, through and through. It was never meant to be put on auto pilot and today, more than ever, it still is a powerful tool to use in your business. Don’t give up on it yet. I am just here to tell you that it takes work–hard work. Social media should complement the other changes you’ve had to make in recent years. I’m hoping the changes you made were what I believe is crucial: better customer engagement and service. Customers may not comment on your blogs or share your photos with all their friends, but they do see you on the web if you are giving them great content. It is a way to engage and have a good brand online.

Without further ado, I’d like to stop and let Chris Brogan’s excellent blog take over. Chris recently wrote a blog called “Social Media Fatigue.” He encourages his readership to wake up and use social media as a tool and think of creative ways to stay the course. Read Chris’s Blog and let me know what you think.

Bad Customer Reviews And What You Can Do About Them

Posted by | Marketing Commentary, Small Biz Talk | 3 Comments

I was looking up carpet companies on my iPhone a week or two ago and came across the photo on this blog post (Click to enlarge). I was looking for a carpet company by my home and clicked on this one companies’ only review they had on Google Places. It was a 1 star review. I’ve only showed you a sample of the review. You can tell that it is not pretty! The customer was anything but happy. I feel sorry for this carpet business but not sorry enough to try him out. He probably isn’t as bad as the reviewer said. So why did I not use him? Because he has a pretty bad review and he never did anything about it. I was in a hurry to find a reputable company I can trust, and not babysit. Because of that 1 star review and my situation, I went elsewhere. So, what could this owner do about this review and those in the future, and what can you do to protect your online reputation?

The New Web Has Changed Everything

Marketers today are calling all these social media sites, blogs, videos and so on, “The New Web.” The New Web (TNW) can be a win win for both the consumer and the business owner. The consumer loves TNW because he (or she) can express himself. He can rant. He can rave. He can tell the world whether he likes something or hates it with a vengeance. It takes only seconds to post things online. It takes only milliseconds now to do web searches. It takes no time at all before a user’s friends and the rest of the web to discover the pros and cons of a consumer’s experience. The New Web is hear to stay and businesses can make this a win for them too. It takes very little time to do one simple thing: Engage.

Engage with Your Customers On and Offline

The quality contractors I know tend to respect their customers privacy, which is a good thing. However, I think many of them tend to be a little intimidated by their clients and don’t feel they can engage with them during and after the job. I think it should be the opposite. I’ve grown up my whole life in the trades, watching my dad run his awesome painting business. I know many of his clients on a first name basis. I’ve been to their house, been invited to parties, even gone out to lunch with some of them. Now that I’m on the east coast, I still have contact with some of my dad’s clients. These folks are wealthy and busy people, yet they still have time to talk with their contractor. Why? Because I was not afraid of them. I stay connected to them, and my dad has done that with them for years. Once you get to know your clients, and serve them well, they should be a customer for life. If you have a bump in the road during the job, do the right thing and fix it. In the end, engage with your customers and make sure they will give you a big “hug” when you leave the job. By engaging with clients on a personal level, you will avoid most nasty online reviews. BUT what happens when you do get a bad one? Respond

Respond To The Review

When a customer or prospect is upset about something, and they know how to use The New Web comfortably, they’ll probably vent by writing a bad review. Don’t sweat this all too much. Most websites like Angie’s List, Kudzu, Yelp and Google allow business owners to respond publicly to reviews, especially negative ones. This is your opportunity to write a nice and simple, not confrontational, response. If you respond and act professional, most web users that will stumble upon your review will make note that you, the business owner, responded well to the review/complaint. That goes a long way. The bigger, more well-known companies, will usually get hit the hardest: plumber, roofers and HVAC companies. These trades live by their online reputation and have to respond to the reviews.

Responding online means you need to budget time each week to take a peek online about what people are saying about you. One way is to sign up for Google Alerts. You can be notified when your name appears online by email or text message.

Maybe this post was nothing new to you. If it was, go out and protect your online reputation and start engaging with your customers. They love you…and make them a customer for life. Do you currently respond to reviews online? How do you engage with your clients? Love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Baby Boomers and Social Media

Posted by | Small Biz Talk | 6 Comments

Is your service business using Social Media yet? Or are you still wondering if it is worth the effort to blog, post, tweet and connect online? Many high-end service contractors work primarily for the Baby Boomer generation. These consumers can typically afford to have their houses painted, geothermal units installed or large custom kitchens remodeled. However, many contractors wonder if their Baby Boomer clientele spends much time online, especially on the Social Media networks. They pose a good question, “Should our company invest the time it takes to be online when many of our customers don’t even know how to use Social Media?

Readers vs. Contributors

The next time you jump on a train, wait for your a flight or spend time in a sitting lounge, take a look around: How many people between the ages of 50 and 65 (and even older) are using iPhones, iPads and other techie gadgets? It often outnumbers the younger users with expensive toys. My parents, who are in their sixties, recently purchased a couple of Apples iTouches and an iPad, and I am amazed at how quickly they are learning to use these devices. My mom even knows how to Facetime, and my dad is considering tossing his “old” Blackberry for the new iPhone! And among their peers, my parents are not alone.

I spoke recently with someone in a Baby Boomer ad agency and he gave me good insight into the current net usage trends: Boomers connect with the online world starting just as readers. In other words, they get on Facebook and subscribe to blogs and read the material that interests them, but they typically do not spend a lot of time contributing. The contributors tend to be the young generation at this point. As business owners using Social Media, we want feedback. We want contributors so that we know we are on the right track. However, getting Baby Boomers to write a review, leave a comment or share our online information may not be a reality at this stage. On an encouraging note, I spoke with a major contributor of Amazon.com’s product reviews, (in her mid 40’s) who said most of the people buying from Amazon and leaving reviews are between 40 and 65. I believe this is because Amazon made reviews what they are today and has had long-term clients who learned how to write a review. Once they learned how easy it was, they started doing it. It is just a matter of time before these same people will branch out and become more active on the other “social” sites.

Don’t be Discouraged

So if the Baby Boomers read more than they contribute at this point, what should a contractor do? Don’t get discouraged, but embrace Social Media marketing. The fastest growing Social Media subgroup right now is the Baby Boomer audience, and you have the advantage if you are prepared for them. The easier things are to use, the more you’ll see them getting involved, even if they do remain more readers than contributors. Having readers is fantastic! Hook them with your content so they want to read more–keep writing good blogs, creating good posts and tweets, and uploading photos and videos. If you have them reading, it will often turn into a lead and hopefully a long-term client.

Finally, make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Make your website ready for the Baby Boomers and mobile users.

What do you think? If you are a Boomer reading this, how do you use Social Media? If you don’t want to comment below, hmmm…maybe call me up or send me an email.

Side note: many of my clients don’t comment on my blogs or post much because they are in that same 40-65 age range… but now and then they’ll mention to me that they read and appreciated a particular post.

Coaching vs Consulting and Do I Need it?

Posted by | Marketing, Small Biz Talk | 10 Comments

Coaching

What would happen if Tiger Woods fired his coach and determined to golf solo? Would he still remain the best in the world? Maybe for a short time. A coach is hired to offer personal training, encouragement, ideas and to be supportive of an individual. In short, a coach keeps his client goal focused. What is the goal for Tiger Woods? To win! What is the goal of a contractor? To run a profitable and well run business, right? A coach is typically hired on a long term basis, not short term. A coach also doesn’t work just with the owner. He or she might be hired to coach an estimator: i.e. a Sales Coach. Maybe you’ve hired a new production manager from within the company and the new manager needs help setting specific goals, a coach would sometimes be hired to keep him accountable and on target. If a business owner wants more specific help on running his business, such as how to build to sell, how to hire employees, a business plan, having good business systems, he would typically hire a consultant, not a coach. Unless of course he wants someone long term to keep him accountable.

Consulting

A consultant is typically hired for short term reasons, to help with a specific need or problem. Consultants will typically ask why something is happening and then help his client think through ways to overcome his problems to reach his business goals. Consultants can be hired for all aspects of business: marketing, business planning, taxes, financial, production and more. In some cases, having both a consultant and a coach can be an excellent move for most small and large businesses. Did you know that even McDonalds, the Marriott, and Verizon all hire outside consultants?

Example from my Dad

Most contractors and small businesses I talk to about coaching or consulting services respond the same way, “I don’t think I can afford a consultant.” To answer this statement, let me share with you a personal story: I grew up watching my dad work 12 hours a day running (not building) his small painting business in San Diego during the 80s and early 90s. His customers loved him, and he was blessed with lots of referrals and repeat business. He had one problem. He wasn’t really making any money. Of course there was the typical job that was profitable but most jobs were just paying the bills and keeping the doors open. Borrowing the term from The E-Myth book, he was working in his business, not on it. We had little complaints during those earlier years. We lived conservatively and with little or no debt, but my dad’s business wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t thriving. Then one day my dad hired his first consulting firm. The first guys charged a lot of money and did nothing. Ok, so that was another mistake. He didn’t give up hope. He wanted to run a successful business and have something to sell or give to his kids someday. So he hired another short-term consulting firm. This one was a lot better. Then in the mid 1990s, he finally landed a good consulting relationship with a local firm and got his business working for him. He raised his prices (after discovering he was not charging enough). Sales go down? Just the opposite! He created an employee handbook, business systems, a hiring process, painting systems, a marketing plan and much more. What was the result? A well run business that has become one of the most profitable and steady painting companies in San Diego. In short, he has created a great place to work. He also kept his business consultant and recently added a financial consultant to his team. My dad told me he did not start making money and running a business he was proud of until he hired a good consultant. His current consultant acts more like a coach now, as the problems are dwindling but he still needs accountability.

Your Experience with a Coach or Consultant

What has been your experience working with a coach or consultant? Have you found it to be helpful? Why or Why Not? Let me know your thoughts on this subject. If you have never hired a consultant, will you consider doing so in the near future?

 

Google CRM? Will It Every Happen?

Posted by | Small Biz Talk | 6 Comments

Google has been pushing harder than ever to keep its Lordship on the web. Their latest battle has been with Facebook who has been creating a powerful army of its own. Google makes most of its revenue through paid search, but has had very good success with its business marketplace: Google Apps. Google Apps provides businesses with business email (Gmail), file storage and creating of documents (Google Docs), Contact Manager, Mobile Access and Google Calendar. Google then went one step further by creating Google Marketplace, which gives third-party companies the ability to sell their products and services and linking them to a companies Google Apps account. The Google marketplace is very similar to the way Apple’s iPhone works with their App Store. So for example, if you use Mailchimp as your email marketing software, you can add Mailchimp to your Google Apps account, which will allow you to sign in automatically through your Google account. Basically Google Apps is the hubspot for your “cloud” business.

I use Google Apps for my 100% cloud-based business and love it. However, I have one problem with it: Google is not a CRM. If Google had its very own CRM built in, I bet they’d get an overwhelming response of new clients in a matter of days. What is holding most small business guy up from switching to Google Apps is the lack of CRM capabilities. Right now they have to sign up for Google, get a smartphone, and then sign up for a third party CRM. However, most third party CRMs currently available are not 100% compatible with Google’s platform. I’ve been using Highrise from 37 Signals as my basic CRM and task manager and then Google for everything else. I’m happy with the two programs. I’d still love to have everything under one roof. I don’t want multiple companies and all these small monthly bills. I like most small business owners want one simple, easy to use CRM program: email, calendar, task manager, contacts, deals and cases! I want it to work with no third party plugins.

My Prediction and Wishlist for Google

I believe Google will create a CRM program. Why they have not done it yet? I don’t know. Maybe they had time to kill and wanted to see how their Marketplace would do. I think the marketplace is very cool, but it still is more than we need as business owners. Also, I think Google has to create a CRM or Microsoft will. Microsoft is a bit behind Google in creating their cloud system, however, they are doing it. Microsoft has a CRM program called Microsoft Dynamics. The cloud version has been released, but I have not tried it out. I’m a Google guy. Also, people are tired of third party plugins left and right. Salesforce, the current leader in CRM-cloud computing, is buying out all the third party companies! So they get it! Will Google do the same? I hope so. I think they should buy out 37signals who has the best project management and CRM programs I’ve seen. I’d then have them take over Pipeline Deals as they too have a few good CRM tools! The problem with 37signals is that they just do NOT work with Google. They are completely separate and have no two-way integration. You have to install plugins from yet another company, that can be buggy, to sync 37signals and Google! Google needs to listen to the small business world and create a CRM program with all the basics. Google does not need to worry about their partnership with Salesforce, because small business owners don’t need such a sophisticated CRM. They need a simple, easy to use system. Google has that now: email, contacts and a calendar. Now just add the customer management, and they will see success. As I’m writing this, it got me thinking, what about Apple CRM? That would be cool!

Here is an article I read that digs a bit deeper into Google CRM. I received this article from Software Advice, who asked me to post it here. So please take time to read: Will Google Enter The CRM Market? by Lauren Carlson. It is a good read. Thanks, Lauren for sending this: and keep me posted on anything else you may discover!

What would you like from Google? Do you have a CRM that works well with the way you run your business?

p.s. I also know it is expensive and can be problematic for Google to create their own CRM…because so many other companies have saturated this market. Google’s marketing decision is probably to continue integrating 3rd parties. My predictions could be wrong. I sure hope I’m right, because I’ve just heard so many people frustrated with all these APIs and plugins. It is getting confusing. If Google holds back, there has to be a company that does a clean and perfect integration with Google.

Research a Prospect Online Before an Appointment

Posted by | Small Biz Talk | No Comments

When your company receives a request for an estimate, there is one very important step your salesperson should take before going out to the prospects home or business. He (or she) should type their prospect’s name into Google and do a little research. The salesperson should discover as much as possible about his prospect such as: occupation, company, hobbies, contributions, education and more. When the salesperson arrives at his appointment he will then have a better understanding of how to begin and lead the sales process.

A number of years ago, while working at Chism Brothers Painting, I researched a new prospects name on Linkedin and Google. I discovered that this homeowner had been the former CEO of several well known nationwide companies. I found out a lot of information about this prospect before ever meeting him. I then began to rehearse how the sales appointment would look like. When I met the owner, I did not mention my discoveries until 3/4 of the way through our walkthrough of his home. Once I got to know him a bit more, I began to talk about his success as a businessman. I’ll never forget his response when I asked him a few questions about his work at his former companies. First he perked up and sounded excited to talk about himself. He then said, “How did you know I worked for there?” His wife heard the question and responded, “He probably googled you!” After that, he began telling me a lot about running a successful business and looked at me almost as someone he could mentor. I also got the job, which turned into about $100,000 of repainting work. There was such a change in our conversation after I started talking about him.

One final “tip” about researching a client. Use good judgement when talking to a prospect about some of the things you discover about them online. Make sure it is the right timing when you bring things up and if it is relevant. Using the Internet can be one of the most powerful tools you have as a salesperson.

Aggressive Prospecting

Posted by | Marketing Advice, Small Biz Talk | No Comments

In this challenging market today, consistent and sometimes aggressive prospecting will be key to keep your business moving forward. The idea of aggressive prospecting is hard for most sales and marketing guys to swallow. In a good economy, prospecting was easy. A sales guy didn’t have to do it! Instead, the office fed him quality leads all day long. If he was good, he’d close the deal 50+% of the time and continue this cycle. Now, being a salesman is a tough business, and it takes years of training and doing to become an expert. But, being just a good salesman isn’t enough when faced with difficult times.

Lesson from History

Years ago, during and after the Great Depression, prospecting, lead generation and closing was all the same thing. A salesman had to hit the streets, knock on doors, make cold visits and calls and learn all about rejection to make a sale. If he did not prospect he made no money.  We can learn something from that era: aggressive and diligent prospecting works! If you want to keep ahead of your competition and grow your business in a down economy, you need to have a prospecting plan. You need to get outside of your comfort zone.

Where to Begin

To begin a prospecting plan in your service business, start by hiring the right people. Make sure they have NO head trash and are comfortable making phone calls and meeting new prospects. Once you find the right people, give them the proper training to refine their skills, agree to a good commission or salary and send them to the streets. Their goal is to meet and greet potential prospects that would be a good fit for your business and sign them up for an estimate or meeting.

If you already have a seasoned salesman who produces great results, he might make a good prospector. You will just have to break him down a bit and get him use to the idea of aggressive prospecting. In this market, you need “all hands on deck.” All your employees must pull their own weight too. If they are not onboard asking for referrals or selling additional work, replace them.  You are building a team, a loyal team. Your job as the owner or business manager is to motivate, encourage, track results and reward for a job well done.

The bottomline is this: if your company is consistent in this market to actively look for work, outside your normal source of leads, you will sail ahead of your competition and leave them fighting an endless battle of survival. Be a maverick!

Schedule your free 30 minute marketing call. Contact David Today!