SBM #64 – Defining Moments

Defining Moments

Reading time: 3 minutes

 

 

Many successful entrepreneurs get asked, “What was their defining moment?” or some similar question. Several have never even thought about it, nor can they easily identify that special moment. Those that do, will admit that they didn’t recognize it at the time as a defining moment, because no trumpets blared or some similar event. It was only through hindsight that it became evident.

Defining moments just happen

The point is, nobody sets out to create defining moments. They aren’t goals in and of themselves, they just happen. What these individuals do though, is they get up every day and work hard to realize their goals and have been doing so long before they became entrepreneurs. What I’ve come to realize is that successful people work hard at everything they do, it’s just part of their DNA.

Working hard doesn’t just mean physically working hard, although that may be part of it. No, they just spend most waking moments thinking about the work they do and how to do it better. Hands on experiences, studying the best practices of not only their industry but even unrelated industries. It’s all fair game. And they do so on their own time and on their own dime.

Polish the stone

Entrepreneurial or not, most successful people didn’t wait for someone to enroll them in a skill improving courses or to pick up a book, no they just did it on their own. They were driven to be better or to “polish the stone” as I like to say. I have found that once this quest for knowledge is acquired, it just becomes second nature.

Throughout their careers, they have strived to be the best at every job they had. They took the time to understand what was expected of them and endeavoured to excel. Is that because of the competitive nature evident in so many successful entrepreneurs? Is it pride that drives them? Or is it just their need to be better? I posit that it’s a combination of these factors. But regardless of their motivation, they are constantly trying to improve their companies and not accept the status quo.

Successful people fail

There are millions of successful people that you’ll never hear about but successful they are. They figured out what they wanted and applied tremendous focus to achieving it. Ask successful people how they did it and I guarantee that most will tell you they never stopped learning, even when they failed, they just kept trying to gain more knowledge. It was their hedge against failing the next time, because most successful people have failed more than once.

Regardless of all the noise about successful people that bombards us every day, very few did so without tremendous effort. We never hear how hard they toiled. We only see the final result. They don’t work hard because they’re successful, they’re successful because they worked hard.

Don’t go looking for defining moments but define your own moments everyday by the choices you make.

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I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

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SBM #63 – Don’t worry about the competition

Read Time: 5 mins

Don’t worry about your competition. Pretty unusual advice to receive for any business owner. To be sure, we need to know some things about our competitors like:

• Who they are
• What products they sell
• Their pricing strategy i.e. cheap or expensive
• Their reputation i.e. after sales service, timeliness, etc.

But this just makes good business sense. Far too often I find small business owners who obsess about every move their competitors make. This obsession often leads to distraction and paralysis as they are not sure whether to match a competitor’s activity or ignore it.

In industries where there is lots of competition, you run the risks of getting serious whiplash as you try to keep an eye on what they are all doing. Let’s be clear, some of your competitor’s activities will prove to be successful. When that happens, that’s your queue to borrow their strategy, provided you have the skills to make it happen, but not before.

Play your own game

Nine times out of ten though, my advice is to completely ignore what the competition is doing and to focus squarely on your own business. In other words, play your own game. What does play your game mean? Well, most us like to think we provide the best service possible to each and everyone of our clients. But do we really? Or, do we simply accept ”good enough” as our performance standard and only do our best once a customer complains?

Think about this for a second. If you were to outline what you consider to be the gold standard of service delivery in your industry, how do you stack up against those benchmarks? Now be honest. Chances are, we probably miss the mark on many and you know what? So do most of your competitors!

Performance standards

Although we talk a good game, do we really do what we say we’re going to do? Do we start when we say we’re going to start? Do we finish when we say we’re going to finish? Do we keep the customer informed throughout the assignment like we said we would? Probably not and why? Because most of us have never set performance standards.

Having performance standards is even more important as we add employees to the organization. As our company grows, we tend to get farther and farther away from the actual work. Where once you were directly involved, you could take corrective action and catch any oversights. Now, you’re relying on others to deliver the end results and you assume they know what your expectations are.

Everybody has their own standards

Statements like “we provide the best customer service” or “we are dependable” are hollow throwaway statements when they’re not backed up by any performance standards. We wrongly assume that our employees know what those words mean but unfortunately, they don’t because everyone has their own definitions and standards. The only way to get everybody on the same page, is by having a clear set of documented standards that outline expectations that are monitored and reviewed regularly.

So, what are some benchmarks or standards that we can put into place to ensure we are doing our best work? Here is a list to get you started and add to once you’re comfortable with the concept

  1. Return phone calls and emails promptly – I had a policy that we returned all client telephone calls immediately or worse case before the day was done. Even, if we couldn’t answer their question immediately, we’d let them know we were on it and when we’d have the answer. Then get back to them when promised. In a subtle way showed them they were important.
  2. Advise clients beforehand of any potential problems that may arise. For clients of my company, if we saw any stumbling blocks to success, we would advise them before beginning the assignment. In these situations, we would try to get them to tweak the parameters. If that was impossible, we typically advised them not to proceed. Why did we take that stand? It’s simple, we knew what it took to execute a successful program and we wanted to avoid marginal programs. It wasn’t worth the grief of explaining after the fact why things didn’t go as they expected. It was a powerful credibility builder when we told clients we didn’t want to spend their money.
  3. Start when you say you will. Granted, things happen that can blow up your scheduling, but more often than not, you probably didn’t leave enough of a buffer between projects for the unexpected. If things go smoothly, then getting permission to start early is a lot more enjoyable than the alternative. If you absolutely must delay the start, give them lots of notice, so they can adjust accordingly.
  4. Advise client immediately, when you encounter unforeseen problems and allow them to make a decision, instead of surprising them at the end with an larger than expected bill. That never goes over well

Too often, we get so enamoured chasing new customers or chasing the competition, that we forget to keep our promises to those customers who entrusted us in the first placed. By establishing company wide performance standards, you will deliver consistent results that make for loyal and profitable customers. I’ll promise you the competition won’t figure out what you’re doing.

Got some other ideas, let me know in the comments below

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Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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Referral marketing: overlooked method generates business

Originally published in Snips Magazine March 2018

You can let things happen or make things happen” is a common saying when it comes to generating revenue.

Many HVAC market companies are just waiting for things to happen and regularly lament that the phone is not ringing. This is not a criticism; it’s just a reality because most have never been shown anything different and don’t know a lot about marketing.

The term “marketing” tends to confuse a lot of people because there are so many options available to promote your business.

Many business owners have never engaged in a formal marketing campaign. Their activities that might qualify as marketing are usually limited to some Facebook posts, an occasional community newspaper ad and of course their Yellow Pages listing. These are passive activities because you’re left waiting and hoping someone reacts. Fortunately, there are more active initiatives you can take to promote your services at little or no cost.

One often overlooked method for generating business is referral marketing. As the name implies, it simply a matter of getting other people to refer your services to their clients. These individuals usually have a certain degree of influence with their clients and often provide them with either a list of suppliers or make specific recommendations. The following is a list of referral sources that you should get to know in your community so you can become their go-to supplier. This is not an exhaustive list, but simply a primer to get you to start thinking about the possibilities.

“Most major cities have thousands of real estate agents.

Even the smallest of towns usually have a dozen or so.”

Real estate agents

Most major cities have thousands of real estate agents. Even the smallest of towns usually have a dozen or so. What they all have in common is that they are dealing with any number of consumers who are either selling or buying a home on a daily basis. Each and every one of these homes has cooling and heating mechanicals that should be checked prior to or as a condition of sale.

Getting in front of these agents can be simply a matter of inviting them to lunch or buying them coffee. Some agencies even allow “lunch and learns” where you can present in front of all the agents at one time for nothing more than the cost of a few sandwiches.

Becoming visible within the real estate community can be a wonderful revenue generator provided you can be responsive to their needs and are dependable.

Restoration companies

These companies are usually called in by home or building insurance companies after a flood, fire or natural disaster. How many of their projects require some kind of remedial or replacement work done on the HVAC equipment? Even if there is no damage to the mechanicals, how many of them should be inspected and cleaned once the renovations are completed?

Pool companies

Pool heaters are included in the installation of new pools in many areas to lengthen the swimming season. Who do they use to run the gas pipe and do the final hookup? Whom do they refer when a customer calls and their heater isn’t working? Why can’t it be you?

Insurance salespeople

Much like real estate agents, these individuals are in touch with an untold number of homeowners and commercial property owners every week. Do some policies require that the mechanical systems are inspected regularly? Some condominium corporations whose insurance companies require all gas furnaces in every unit to be inspected and cleaned every couple of years. When you think how many units there are in a townhouse complex, this could be a lucrative piece of business.

Alternatively, can these agents refer you to a client that has had a claim that required some kind of renovation but not a major restoration? Again, sitting down to a coffee or a meal may be worthwhile.

Property managers

Property managers come in different sizes and shapes. Many are small, one-person operations that are responsible for many single-family dwellings or small apartment complexes on behalf of their owners. These individuals haven’t got time to be chasing after suppliers and prefer to deal with one specialist within each trade. They also want fair pricing and responsive service. With upwards of a couple of dozen units under their jurisdiction, getting to know these individuals can become a wonderful source of ongoing revenue.

Other trades

How about electricians and plumbers? How often are they on a call and overhear customers comment about needing something for their furnace or air conditioner? How about supplying them with a handful of your business cards that they can hand out when necessary? This can be a reciprocal agreement where you also have their cards. This works best when there is some form of finders’ fee involved for every lead. Possibly a percentage of the job or a flat fee for every successful order you get.

Next steps

Get out a pen and paper, laptop or tablet and start a list of everyone you know in the above categories. Chances are you know at least one person, or you know someone who knows someone in each category. Next, pick up the phone and invite them for coffee. Tell them what you do and that you’d like to be considered as one of the referral partners. Then suggest that they test you out before making any commitment.

“You can either let things happen

or make things happen”

Will every one agree? Probably not, but you should keep in touch with them because you’ll never know when their current supplier will drop the ball. Staying in touch increases the odds that you’ll get the call if and when it happens. Start looking for opportunities to create referral sources because for those willing to step out of their comfort zone, the rewards await.

As many of you know, being in business is not a passive undertaking. It requires active engagement on many levels, all the time. Start looking for opportunities to create referral sources because for those willing to step out of their comfort zone, the rewards await. So the choice is yours: you can either let things happen or make things happen.

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