During our launch-lunch with Richard C, we discussed the Wheelbarrow awards. Richard has been working with us - very effectively helping us grow our business - from start-up to where we are now and of course we have implemented many of his advice and ideas. So when Richard said I could have a Gold Wheelbarrow Award to say I was surprised, no not really (proud and honoured, of course!). But then there was a twist - a new challenge if you like.
In order to be officially awarded the gold award I have, like everyone else will have to, to put to paper at least 7 implemented ideas and the (positive) results of it.
(Easy, I said immediately, many of them are already listed in my Kiss Business Novel, but apparently that only gives me a head-start, so here goes, from the start:)
- Choose an accountant/consultant best suited for your business (your character even)
It's like with most things, there are plenty around in various shapes and 'colours' but to choose the first one you find in the Yellow Pages could - in the end - cost you dearly. I'm a (Dutch) qualified book-keeper myself, so an accountant who only has 'one-fits-all' tariff would be too costly for us (been there, paid it - but that's a chapter on its own in the novel). Is practical advice every time you need it included in the contract, or are you invoiced every single time you dare to pick up the phone to ask a accounting related question? (Been there, paid it - see same chapter.)
We 'found' Burns Waring through networking - BNI Ashford. Richard had joint this chapter a few months after we had when we were still employed by our former 'partners'. Unfortunately the partners also dictated which accountants bureau we had to use, but in the meantime - listening to 60 seconds presentation from Richard and being able to talk to him for 10 - 15 minutes during the breakfast meetings every week - had given us a reliable picture of what Burns Waring could mean/do for us. When we decided to 'go-it-alone' we knew upfront they would suite us best (and over the years, that hasn't changed).
Result of this implementation: a reliable 'partnership' based on mutual trust.
- Trust your own skills, knowledge and strengths, and keep learning
When 'the partners' closed us down, made us redundant we had a hard decision to make: going 'back home' (to what?) or start our own wooden flooring company. We were worried we didn't have what it took after the disaster of the first 'venture', so of course we discussed this with Richard. He was very straightforward with the dilemma:
"Who managed the showroom these two years, you or the partner?" Eh, we.
"Who gained trust from the customers, you or the partners?" Us again.
"Who worked in a professional manner towards prospects, customers, suppliers and took responsibility for the after care of any job, you or the partners?" We did.
"Who did the books, you or the partners?" Me.
"Who creamed of too much cash-flow, resulting in the close-down, you or the partners?" That would be them, definitely.
He didn't need to ask more questions, he showed he believed in our capabilities to run our own business earlier than we did. We took a deep breath and 'started', diving straight into a steep learning curve - and we never stop learning.
Result of implementation: a new company was born and the rest - as they say - is history. We never looked back and are starting to reap the rewards of 'the plunge'.
- Position your start-up business as if you're already trading for 5 years
"The term 'Small Business' is just a typology used by economists or for financial statistics - not a label you should wear. Think big, from day one on."
(One of the many quotes from Richard both Mike - the webwizard - and I favour.)
It's a mind-set, but why would a start-up business 'come in lower' (price, quality, service) than the existing market offers? To get 'a foot' in the door? Which door? Once you're trading and gain customers, how hard is it afterwards to 'crank-up' everything (price, quality, service) to become level with the market-leaders? Never apologise for being a 'start-up'.
Result of implementation: quality customers from day one on.
- Increase profits by increasing your sales price, not by cutting costs
Most business persons I know personally are afraid to raise their prices, afraid that this will lose them customers. There are in fact loads of tables and figures that can show you this is not true. Not true so far that by rising your sales price with x percentage and keeping the same gross margin you can afford to lose some customers without suffering at the bottom line (those fact-tables are in my novel too - e.g. 10% increase in sales price with a gross margin of 30% the turnover can decrease with 25% before you lose net profit. To do the same with cutting costs you would have to save 16% on all your fixed costs). Imagine what happens if you don't lose any of your customers?
Result of implementation: more gross and net profit without extra effort, plus our customers realised that quality products and service come with their own - reasonable - price tag.
- First calculate the extra gain, not the costs, a new investment or marketing decision will bring (my own personal favourite chapter - 4:The Yellow Brick Road - in my business novel)
We started our business working from home, not the most ideal situation when you try to sell natural wooden flooring. When the opportunity came to lease a small showroom in our lovely village we really hoped we could 'afford' it. Turn it around was the simple advice from Richard: if you have that showroom, how much more would you turnover? 20%? 50%? 100%? Would the net profit of the extra turnover pay the lease?
It's a much more positive - and fun - way to make such a decision, I can tell you that.
Result of implementation: in the first full year in our showroom we doubled our turnover and this (2nd) year we're well on our way to reach that same goal - doubling again.
- Write you, not we
Have you noticed how many websites, company marketing brochures are filled with we, we, we. "We offer the best" - "We are the most acclaimed business in our field" - "We are top of our field".
A prospect or customer is tuned in to WII.FM: 'What's In It For Me'. He/she wants to hear, read what you can do for him.
"You benefit from...." etc.
Result of implementation: after rewording our website (and other marketing materials) and the wording in our quotations we increased the conversion rate from 47% to 70%
- Test, measure - increase or stop
Sometimes it seems we're all surrounded by hypes: you've got to have a quarter page ad in the Yellow Pages, you've got to hire a PR-company to write editorials for you, you've got to air radio-commercials, you've got to have this, you've got to do that: everyone is doing it and everyone is making big bucks out of it.
Before you 'follow' the herd into the next craze and spend way too much money you have to test any new or additional idea: would it work for us, what would be the extra profit and would it be worth the costs? Test it on a small scale (local radio station instead of regional station, one Yellow Pages book instead of three), measure the results - enquiries received, extra sales generated - and then decide if you continue on the same level, increase the level (weekly ads in the paper instead of monthly, broadcasting your commercial on the neighbouring 'local' radio station) or stop wasting money.
Result of implementation: we tested a radio commercial with a local station for two months - one week on, one week off - only received the wrong enquiries and pulled the plug. We're pulling the plug on our Yellow Pages ads next. We're increasing the amount of time spend on tweaking our websites.
- (Oops - well, after publishing my novel beginning last year, of course we didn't stop implementing other ideas)
Diversity from the same kitchen
Although doing very well in our showroom, supplying and installing many floors in the East Kent area, we want to grow even more. Not really ready to employ more fitters, but trying to grow our DIY-site of the business beyond Kent. In May I wrote a whole post about this: Dilemma in progress and what advice we received to establish this.
Result of implementation: our online shop is almost ready to launch - logistics almost all in place - ready to g(r)o(w).
- Promote benefits, not features
Our wooden floors are made of.. wood (but of course), have T&G' all around, oil or lacquer finish etc. Features nobody really gets exited about. However those same features combine into the following benefits: easy to clean, adds value to your home, is a hygienic and ant-allergic floor covering and eco-friendly. Now here I can get exited about - as do our customers.
Result of implementation: not every customer is looking for the same benefit of our product, we can 'cater' the conversation with the customer to this specific benefit - they feel we understand their needs very well.
- Don't be afraid to acknowledge your own expertise
This sounds like a chapter out of "Brag! The Art of Tooting your own Horn without Blowing it" by Peggy Klaus. A few months ago I mentioned to Richard that on a regular base we received phone-calls from Architects, Designers and Developers asking for advice. And as always I received a question: do you mention that in your marketing materials? Eh, no, that's bragging, we're not really experts, we base our advice on our experiences. And personally I resent the word expert, but that's a completely different story. Even for that 'excuse' Richard found a solution and suggested the following text:
"As the acknowledged authority on wooden flooring, many architects, interior designers and property developers, nationally and locally, frequently call 'Wood You Like' for advice on choice and suitability of different wooden flooring and advice on the fitting and maintenance. You can also feel free to contact us: our advice and help is only one phone call 01233 - 713725 (or email) away"
Result of implementation: increased number of phone-calls, increased number of enquiries by even more Architects, Designers and Developers.
And I haven't even touched on the many other ideas for specific marketing projects, tax advice or IT Tools we have discussed, thought about and if 'approved' implemented - but I think I'll leave it at these 10 (it's a long enough post as it is, sorry 'bout that).
I'm sure it will keep Richard busy over the coming weeks to publish articles about all these items - that's the twist - challenge - I'd like give to him ;-)
Well, Richard, what you think? Worth the Gold Wheelbarrow award?