I was working with a small business owner recently. He grossed about $2 million a year and does a good job at keeping things moving. He has been in business for himself most of his career and understands his industry well. He is likeable, pays well, and is respected for the job he does and the services he provides his customers.
He is also losing everything he has worked so hard to build.
In business we want to create profit as well as provide a good service. We also know that if it can happen to a good businessman like my friend, it can happen to anyone. And it is happening very fast to many owners. The $2 million question is “WHY?”.
When we were growing up, as many of you learned, the world of business was based on what you know. Being a person of knowledge was the thing that kept the business growing. Reputation was earned over time and through many different ways – internship, college, on the job, etc. If you increased your knowledge then you increase your worth to a company. The mantra was, “Want to move up the ladder of success? Get more education.” It was difficult and you had a system to prove yourself through grades and performance.
Now, things have been turned upside down. Reputation can be killed before you even know it is dead. Who would have thought you needed more than great services and pricing to be profitable? That is the reality we live with now. One more thing…I am NOT talking about you online reputation. I’ll let guys like Chris Brogan* spend time talking about that.
Bulldog Rule # 5 - Every business is a people business
Bulldog Rule # 8 - Re-examine your business often
For my friend with the dying business, he had to look at many parts of his business to find out where his reputation was still shining and where he needed to spend some time shining it up. It was grueling to think that even though his level of service was as good as any top-notch business in the industry and that he had many fans of his business we still had a problem with reputation.
We started by looking at his relationship to his staff, customers, vendors, and competition. Yes, we looked at how he related to his competition. When you have a respectful atmosphere, there can be growth everywhere. When there is no respect, you know that you need to spend more time and energy looking out for the guy down the street. That information is vital to the life of a business.
For the staff, we wanted to know the five words that best described their view of the business. A simple anonymous survey made getting the honest truth easy. What we found was upsetting to my friend. He thought he treated his team well and that they liked working for him. He thought they were loyal. He found out that they were tired, bored with their jobs, and had been looking for employment elsewhere.
His customers, although less likely to give an opinion one way or another, let him know that they wanted a wider variety of services to purchase. The limits he put in place when he started in order to get the business going were now limiting customer visits to less than once a month. Great service and prices does not always mean customers will run to your door. Once we looked at adding services, we also looked add how we could tie the customer requests for services to the advertising that the service was added. Once customers saw he was listening to them he had a whole new group of customers.
We looked at vendors. Vendors? Why vendors? They are in your business and many other businesses and if you think they aren’t talking about the way you treat them or what they see in the back rooms you are wrong. Once we asked a few small questions, they let us know that they saw many ways to help streamline the way he was perceived (remember, they see a lot of business operations) and how they can add a great name to the way they talk about your business.
This one is tough since the knee-jerk reaction is for them to say something bad about your business. Instead of looking at this as a barrier, we took a look at how we could add value to the industry. There doesn’t always have to be a winner and a loser. We looked for a charity they could both support and then approached the owners. Once they realized they could be a bigger force for helping the community, it became a game to out support the non-profit organization. Everyone won and the free advertising was huge.
Looking at your business, find ways to ask how people feel about it. Branding is a feeling after all. Once it starts to sour and turn people away, you have a harder time making things good again. Reach out, ask and listen before you HAVE to. There is a lot more to a business than marketing and bottom-lines.
Bob Griffin – CEO
*(Thank you Chris for great information. You are a true Business Bulldog!)