A few weeks ago, I was in Florida for a wedding. During the week, my wife and I took a break to hang out on the beach and had a chance encounter with a home builder from my area. We had a great chat over the course of a few hours, while hanging out together on the beach. The conversation eventually turned to the state of the home building industry and the outlook for the next 12-24 months. We both agreed that it could be challenging, similar to what we experienced many years ago during a recession. Obviously, no one has a crystal ball and can predict the future, but I always like to plan for the worst-case scenario and hope the best happens by surprise.
Going through an economically challenging or downtrodden business period can either help you to improve business practices or put you out of business. I recall back to the horrific 911 tragedy in 2001. This historic event shook the US, and the world emotionally, but also had a significant impact on the economy and businesses.
In 2001, I was working for an Integration company and our business immediately compressed by about 60%. The phones stopped ringing and the new leads vaporized as projects were put on hold or cancelled all together. Consumers held on tight to their wallets and purses to wait and see how and when the economy would recover. It was a very challenging time, and we were forced to get creative to find new work. I was fortunate to work with a great team that rallied together to generate new leads and business opportunities.
We all experienced a global crisis recently due to the Coronavirus and subsequent mandatory social restrictions and confinement. Obviously, it does not always take a tragedy to impact business. Sometimes, it can be a big customer who has a contraction in their flow of business to you. This is a concern that every business should be aware of and try to address by finding new customers and increasing the business surrounding their primary customer.
I can tell you that the experience I endured back in 2001 and other business challenges experienced in my professional life, have delivered some of the most significant lessons and provided great growth opportunities. Some of these lessons I learned are as follows:
Lesson 1: “Dig the well before you are thirsty”
I learned the hard way to never get comfortable when business is good. I would always look ahead 3, 6, 12 months and wonder what new projects or opportunities could be cultivated. This was not always easy, especially when I just started my Integration company. I was working from a spare bedroom in the home and competing against other well-established companies with sexy showrooms.
When I started my business, I remember thinking “I need to fake it, until I make it”. I had been in the industry for over a decade at that time, but my business was brand new. I also did not have an office or showroom for potential customers to visit. So, I invested a significant amount of money into creating a very impressive website and professional company brochure.
I would also regularly check with the local government offices to see which builders had pulled permits for a new home build. I would then contact the builder, either on the phone, visiting the jobsite or sending them a very nice package with popcorn and movie snacks. I would include an introduction letter and state something along the following lines:
“Dear Mr. Builder (insert name here),
I know you are very busy, so I will briefly introduce our company and the benefits we could offer you and your valued customers. As a token of our appreciation for you investing a few minutes to read this letter, we have included some snacks for you and your team to enjoy while you consider this opportunity.
We recently noticed that you have pulled a building permit for new home located at …. We take great pride in our craftmanship and dedication to delivering an exceptional experience for each and every customer, as you can see from the testimonials on our website. We would greatly appreciate any opportunity you would be willing to provide us to impress you and your customer with our skills, abilities, and commitment to excellence. Would you be opposed to considering us as a first, second or third option with whom your customers could discuss their low voltage needs?
Thank you for the time you invested in considering this opportunity. I will try to call you next week to respond to any questions or concerns you may have about our company or this opportunity”
Lesson 2: “Never take any customer or lead source for granted”
Obviously, finding new customers and referral sources is important, but keeping the ones you have intact is even more important. Word spreads fast if customers are dissatisfied and it can have a demonstrative effect on your business.
I invested and re-invested in every lead source constantly and regularly. If I received a lead from a builder, architect, customer, or anyone, I would update them every step of the way through the courting process and during the project. I wanted to assure them that I respected where the referral came from, and they were their customer (or friend) first. We had a duty and obligation to provide the new customer with exceptional support and customer service, out of respect for the person or company that directed them to us. Sadly, I have seen the exact opposite too many times in my professional life, with other companies.
This focus on respect for the referral source and the communication involved in updating the person or company resulted in very dedicated and exclusive relationships with countless builders, architects, and interior designers.
Lesson 3: “Be visible!”
Now more than ever it is important to have an active online presence. I regularly look at industry related websites, from: manufacturers, dealers, distributors, reps, etc… The vast majority are outdated, have broken links, old “news” from months or years ago. This is your brand image and must be taken seriously. There are so many great developments in our industry to talk about on social media, your website and newsletters: circadian lighting, energy management, health and wellness, etc… You are an industry leader and technology expert; your online presence should reflect this position.
Additionally, as a writer, I can tell you that industry publications and local newspapers are also eager for new content from contributors. When I had my integration company, I would regularly contact local newspapers to contribute articles and would also host hot new technology training for local builders, architects, realtors, and designers. I was also very active with the Builders and Remodelers Association; participating in their events.
As we embark on a new year ahead no one can control the economy, but we can take control of our future by proper strategic planning and hard work. Best wishes to you and your team for a BIG year ahead in 2023!
I would love to hear from you. Please email me anytime at: firstname.lastname@example.org