What suggestions do you have for staying positive and continuing to hang on in this economy?
I have a dear friend that lives in my hometown, the funny thing is we hardly ever see each other unless we are OUT of town… this was recently demonstrated on my way to the IDAL convention in Virginia on layover walking in the terminal I turned around to see the familiar face of my dear friend Kelly King. We had been on the same flight from Omaha and didn’t even know it but serendipity had us assigned right next to each other on the following flight, finally we’d have some time to catch up. Little did we know at the time the flight would be delayed and we had more than enough time to solve the entire world’s problems!
I entertained Kelly with the story of my recent tragedy of burning a great deal of my hair OFF in a most unfortunate overheated blow dryer incident. Five minutes into drying my hair I noticed the bathroom was filling with smoke, needless to say I was terrified when chunks of my hair began showing up in the round brush I was using. As I ran my fingers through my hair MORE and MORE hair began breaking off about one inch long and falling out. Apparently the heat of the dryer literally fried the hair right off at the stress point of the round brush…screams of terror now! My daughter witnessed the entire ordeal and stood over me with the most horrified look on her face I’ve ever seen! In the end I was left with somewhat of a punk look on the very top of my head and need to dye it orange to make the look actually work. As we laughed about my new ‘hairstyle’ Kelly’s mind wondered back to the business of ‘business’ (which it always does) and we began talking about the last few years bad economy and how many of our businesses have suffered and our calls and customers did the same thing as my hair …. Fell out! And how we’ve all been terrified the same way I was that day I stood in my bathroom.
The flight attendant refreshed our drinks and we continued our discussion which I was enjoying thoroughly because first it was the first time I was able to laugh about my “hair raising” situation and secondly because Kelly had such encouraging optimistic things to say and frankly I am tired and saddened by all the “doomsday; talk we’ve all had to endure the past few years. I wanted to share the good points he made and had the idea of conducting an interview for the “Ask Sass” column.
SASS: “Kelly, I know you are now “Director of Education and Product Development” at Modern Masters and you’ve been traveling all over the world recently, what is your take on what’s going on economically and what it means for us as finishers?
KELLY: “Well, I’ve had my finger on the pulse of this industry for sometime now. What
I see is light at the end of the tunnel! I see businesses rebounding. It has been a very tough market, there have been so many foreclosures in the housing industry, additionally over the last several years builders have not produced nearly as many new homes as in the past and the Feds have had to lower interest rates to all time lows… in fact so low we may never see those rates again. What this means is a change in American wealth… as all these foreclosures continue to be bought up they change hands to new homeowners or investors.
SASS: “Ok, but how does this directly impact our businesses?
KELLY: “As wealth from those homes shift to those buying them this will help create customers for us that can afford what we do. Additionally many of these homes have sat empty and are older and in need of repair and remodeling. Because things had been so bad inventories of new homes have dried up, leaving mainly foreclosures that are getting sold… as this inventory starts to deplete we will actually be in a housing shortage which in actuality we already are but it is currently hidden behind all of the foreclosures and temporary apartment rentals. The economy is slowly working itself back up; sure we have bumps in the road. Nonetheless history always repeats itself and America always fixes it messes in time…. So I say we are heading to the next boom, this may take 3 to 5 years but those of us that can hold strong will be in a position to really take advantage of the next boom.
SASS: Any suggestions what we do meanwhile?
KELLY: Yes! Evaluate your budgets, both personal and business, cutting out anything and everything you can, get LEAN! After, recalculate your billing rate based on these new lowered expenses. Begin paying closer attention than ever to your production costs, i.e.: knowing how many square feet product covers for every layer of every finish you do and just how long it takes to complete those finishes. Make sure you are selling finishes that actually make you money. Say no to unprofitable projects .Do not stop marketing, it is usually the first thing to get cut in financial shortages and should be the last. Explore ways of marketing that are new to you… grass roots style. Be honest surely there are more ways to network than you currently are ask yourself what else can I possibly be doing to get my name out there and book work, flip over more stones than you ever have. Go to your local library and get some marketing books and spend any down time reading and learning and empowering yourself. Be more hands on than ever… become intimate with your clients needs and don’t be afraid to suggest additional work! Consider offering new additional services (that you are qualified to do) to what you are currently offering to expand project possibilities. When the work begins to grow back, just like your hair, better than ever, you will be refreshed and poised to do what you have trained to do.
SASS: Kelly, can you expand a little bit on what you mean by grass roots marketing?
KELLY: Sure, by grass root marketing I mean getting back down to the core, with not only the old tried and true methods of marketing but also by folding in fresh creative ideas with a twist (suggestion to follow) of note is the fact that many ways of advertising are free or almost free. Put yourself in places where your customers hang out such as sporting events, fund raisers and school functions, get next to them and really rub elbows. When things are booming we can get lazy, we expect the phone to ring and have abundant work. We are doing nothing to prepare for when the “hair falls out” and we are left “BALD” (but beautiful because we ARE decorative finishers after all).
Grass root marketing is getting in the trenches and pulling out all the stops. Start by
talking to your best customers, ask them for referrals. Ask them what friends, neighbors or family members they have that you should meet. Then ask them for those introductions, you’ll usually be surprised how willing others are to help if you ask.
Grass roots marketing may also mean it is time to get involved in social events such as fundraisers and engage yourself with meeting groups for networking purposes. Get out the old yard signs, business cards and fliers…throw on the old paper route bag and get out there and deliver fliers where you can, business cards at functions where you can, and yard signs. Put your brain in creative gear just as you would if you were trying to create a new finish. I am going to elaborate on this for a minute, there is a big difference between thinking and completely putting your brain in creative gear. This takes focus and time. Thinking is only the start, you have to get yourself in the zone… given time and energy your mind moves from thinking to almost a mega-speed creative thinking process. Your mind starts to invent new ideas by simply focusing on a subject such as marketing and fertilizing that one thought to grow into your next best idea ever! This is what I meant by putting your brain into creative gear…when you go past that first hour of thinking your mind shifts and all of a sudden it is going so fast in creative gear that you can’t put the brakes on. I highly recommend setting time aside to do just this, even checking into a hotel alone to give yourself the free time your mind needs. Your creative mind will literally hand you ideas that will make you business soar if you let it. It takes focus, effort and isolation. Just be sure to have a pen and paper handy, if you are anything like me…I can’t move the pen across the paper fast enough the capture the thoughts. My best time and place for thinking and getting my mind in creative gear is on my long flights to other countries. Where is your place to get your mind in creative gear?
Now that you have the grass roots part back in place it is time to add a twist! Here is an example (that I have recommended and it worked amazingly well)…lets say you’re a painting contractor. You reach an old customer and ask them for some referrals. You know they live in a prestigious neighborhood and that even in a bad economy, these people will spend their money if you could show them the reasons why they should. Instead of handing out fliers, you ask your customer if you might load their driveway up with a pyramid or 5 gallon paint pails (now think even bigger yet and ask the neighborhood association if this could be done for a day or two at the entrance to the neighborhood) Instead of an 8.5” x 11” flier or 1’ x 2’ yard sign you print a huge 4’x8’ poster maybe even hang a few huge panels of your coolest finishes next to the paint cans with a message that says “ Ask me about a face lift for your walls”
Think about this, every homeowner in the neighbor hood will see this…your biggest problem will be having enough business cards ready to hand out! So in conclusion I would say think long, think big and then think bigger!
SASS: Awesome Kelly, I would mention here that I also really enjoyed brushing up my marketing skills in your “28 principals to contracting success” and I’ll be ‘lathering” up my own business with a bit of this business growing advice, thank you!
KELLY:.” Oh and Sass… meanwhile I think it’s great that you like wearing hats!
SASS: GRRR! (Throws drink at Kelly)
Kelly’s suggested reading list:
“Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
“The Success System That Never Fails” — W. Clement Stone