Monday, February 25, 2008

Navigating an Economic Slowdown

Sales are slow, the checking account is getting low. You've got to cut costs and/or raise revenue. It's tempting at times like these to look at your ad budget for solutions. That's actually not a bad thing to do, but your aim should not be to reduce the amount of advertising, just the cost.

The last thing you want to do during a prolonged slow period is reduce or eliminate your public profile. People may not be in a buying mood today, but when they are, they are much more likely to head for the familiar. If you've been out of sight, you've been out of mind.

There are ways to stay visible and cut costs, especially when business is slow and you've got more time on your hands. Consider using doorhangers and newspaper inserts as opposed to direct mail. Use regional newspapers and organizational newsletters as opposed to the major daily. Spend more time attending networking events. Take advantage of events large and small where you can set up a table and hand out information and promotional material. Consider hosting a network event or fundraiser. Send out update letters with your regular invoices. Develop in-store or in-office advertising displays. You can also use any extra time you find yourself with to get around to those tasks you'd been putting off. Finish the website. Start the blog. Update the business card.

This is also the time to evaluate your product and service line and see what needs updating, replacing or eliminating. People love new stuff. Give them some. While you're at it, put anything new and different into a 100 word press release and send it to the local media. Follow up with a phone call asking if they received it and if it's something they'll consider running.

Don't think of a slowdown as crisis time. Think of it as half time. Review your past performance. See if there are lessons to be learned, adjustments to be made. Get ready for the next round. When they economy does come back, and you've got to assume it will (there is absolutely no point in assuming it wont), you want to hit the ground running. Don't get caught flat-footed.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Marketing Through Uniforms

By Everett Abrams

When making decisions about uniforms this line of the Profit and Loss statement usually reflects a very low number or even a zero. This is a mistake for your business. Uniforms can be a very effective form of advertising that often is overlooked. When decisions are made to cut back on expenses this is one item that contractors often cut. When planning a budget or business plan this line item should be given very careful consideration. Uniforms can be a great marketing tool that boosts your bottom line.

Uniforms should always have your company logo on them. This is part of the branding of your company and builds brand recognition. Most decision makers will also include a phone number as well. One thing to consider is to list services, a tag line, or company slogan on the back of the uniform. This does not only apply to shirts but also company sweatshirts that employees often wear. These items should be listed so that potential customers can easily read them. You should view these as walking billboards on the backs of a mini sales force.

Your employees often stop for coffee in the morning, go out for lunch during the day, and stop to pick up something on the way home at night potentially being exposed to many potential customers. How often have you stopped in a store and struck up a conversation with someone? Have you ever noticed a contractor or serviceman in a uniform and asked some questions or asked for a business card? Uniforms that list your company services can start up a conversation that would otherwise never happen.

This leads to other considerations to be prepared for though. Your employees should be properly trained on how to handle these situations. It is important to recognize that not everyone is a great or even good sales person. This does not mean that they are not great employees. In these situations they should be armed with company business cards and instructed to ask the potential customer to call the office for more details or to have any questions answered. Hiring practices are a completely different topic but, this is the perfect reason why you should hire "nice" people. You can not train "nice" and if your employees are nice and friendly it will make a difference in customer service and the "selling" of your brand. When these potential customers interact with your employees they potentially become the "first impression" of your company.

Uniforms also add a look of professionalism that speaks volumes to your customers and more so your customers neighbors! Your neighbors will notice a professional company in uniforms over the company that has their favorite rock band t-shirts on. If you are a landscaper and the neighbor needs to hire a company to care for their property they may certainly ask the neighbor about their company that is doing a great job and always arrives in uniform and looking professional. The other item to consider is how your employees feel about the company they work for. They are much more likely to be more productive and be proud of the company they work for in professional looking uniforms.

Do not forget to address the negatives though. For all the exposure that your employees and their uniforms have it can work against you. You should address with your employees that it is important to not cause a negative image for your company. They should certainly NEVER wear their uniforms to their favorite drinking hole. Alcohol affects everyone differently and you don't want your uniforms involved in potentially bad situations. Employees should always be cognizant of any actions that will reflect negatively on the company when wearing uniforms. It is important to address these situations before an incident occurs.

Now you can see why an often overlooked line on our budgets can be so important to our bottom line and increasing company profits. Investing in company uniforms now seems like an expense that your company can not afford to do without.

Everett Abrams is on the Executive Board of Directors of the Power Washers of North America (PWNA) as President-Elect, Instuctor for the Wood Cerification Class of the PWNA, and co-author of the "Exterior Wood Restoration" manual that is used to teach professionals across the country. Everett also participates on the Joint Coatings Committee of the Forest Products Laboratory. Everett Abrams is also President of Deck Restoration Plus, a franchise company that specializes in wood restoration.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

How's Your Feedback Rating?

Paypal popularized the concept of feedback ratings when it introduced them as a means of quality control on it's auction services. It's a very handy mechanism for getting an idea of whether the person you're buying from or selling to has a history of keeping their word.

The same concept can be applied to your daily transactions and associations. Consider your reputation to be your "feedback rating". A good feedback rating can greatly enhance the value of your more tangible marketing efforts. Each person you associate with has a general image of you in their mind. Is it a good one? Keep in mind that every action you take, or don't take, everything you say, everything you do, is an opportunity to add to, or subtract from your feedback rating. It may not be written down, or publicly posted, but it is very real. How will the customer or supplier you're dealing with right now respond when asked "What do think of so and so's?".

Word of mouth can be very powerful, both postively and negatively. You can't control what people say about you and your business or who they say it to. You can control their perception of you by how you interact with them.

You don't know who people deal with or talk to during the course of their day. Your lowest income, lowest spending customer is potentially just as valuable as your biggest spender. Don't cherry-pick who you're going to do right by. Do right by everybody, and accept no less from them toward you. Your efforts and awareness will pay for themselves many times over in the long run.