In a lean economy, small businesses need to arm themselves with as many options as possible. You must learn to evolve with the changing climate of consumer behavior if you wish to survive. It could be likened to Darwin’s theory on “survival of the fittest.” The level of success you experience in your business is closely tied to how “fit” it is.
Before exerting energy on getting your business fit, first develop an understanding of what the current market is demanding. That way you’ll prepare for what’s relevant. It doesn’t matter what worked yesterday; that’s in the past. You must focus on current trends and immediate needs to take advantage of slimmer margins. We all want to survive; it’s a natural condition of the human experience. But as it relates to business, how do we determine what being the “fittest” means and how is that level attained?
Fit means to be of a suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose. From this definition, I think we’d all agree that being fit is a very good thing for our business.
Fit is also the root word of fitness, which creates an especially familiar term when used in conjunction with the word physical. We readily accept the fact that physical fitness is a necessary ingredient in living a healthy and complete life, just as not being physically fit equates to poor health and a degraded life. When you exercise your body, you keep it fit or in an acceptable state. This same principle applies to business. In order to meet the required purpose of your business (making a profit), you must present your business image in a suitable manner that consumers will recognize as being superior (being the fittest).
There are many tools used when developing relationships and good business acumen. These basic building blocks could include things like honesty, integrity and hard work. Good, sustainable businesses are built on foundations that use such solid principles. But a good foundation is not enough when building new business. You must have an appealing façade or cornerstone. This first impression is what potential clients see. Second chances are often given for mistakes made with the basic building blocks, but not for the cornerstone. For instance, it is not uncommon to give people the opportunity to make amends when they have been dishonest. We see that play out in the courts every day. And, if you’re an employer, I’m sure you have given a pass to employees who don’t provide their best effort. No one wants to repair a foundation, but because we live in an imperfect world, we readily accept this concept of second chances. But there are no second chances when it comes to first impressions. You get one shot at making it right. It’s not like baseball’s rule of three strikes and you’re out. You stand at the plate with one ball, one bat and one chance at a swing that you hope knocks it out of the park.
There is not necessarily a right and wrong approach to first impressions. You just need to be aware of the power it yields. Because you only get one chance at a good first impression, you want to give it your best effort. And the only way to do that is twofold:
• Preparation. Success comes from training and doing the necessary groundwork, not by winging it. Ill-prepared presentations are equivalent to closing your eyes during target practice hoping you hit the bull’s-eye.
• Consistency. You’ll never make a good impression if your approach is laden with unpredictability. Be deliberate in your delivery and consistent in your message.
There are so many things you can do to help generate new business, but where do you begin? The vultures of advice are circling distraught businesses with a host of marketing options that are “guaranteed” to bring success to your sales strategy. But before you invest and implement any new plans, you really need to reassess your current ones. If you’ve been in business for more than five years you know how things used to be before people started getting tight with their dollars. There was more money to spend and less skilled craftsmen available to do the work. Now there are even fewer dollars circulating and more workers lined up to do the work. It’s simple supply and demand. Unfortunately, there’s a greater supply of workers and less demand from consumers. And because there is glut of workers, desperation to make a sale prevails. Some companies are bidding at cost just to stay afloat for one more day. But legitimate businesses understand the concept of making a profit; it’s the only way a company can survive. So how do you go about competing against an unfair competition? Simply don’t compete against them on price alone, because it’s a battle you’ll never win. This hand-to-mouth approach is like pricing work for the sole purpose of buying enough beer at the end of the week.
When work slows down, it’s easy to go into survival mode and succumb to poor selling practices. If you present your wares solely on the merits of the product itself, you might find yourself getting underbid. If you do, it’s probably because the client is merely comparing on price alone. In a tight economy that’s what people do. Just because we fabricate a custom high-end product, we cannot expect our clientele to pay the difference, especially when the climate is one of frugality. We also can’t blame the consumer for choosing the competition. They’re simply making a decision based on the information given them. In other words, you don’t want to provide nothing more than a comparison bid based solely on money. We need to give them a reason to buy from us. And that reason is something no one else can compete with you on — individuality. For instance, if I sell only the product and lose the job, it’s because I lost it solely on dollars. But if I sell myself in the process, I’m offering the client something they can only get from me.
Tell, don’t sell
Again, when you meet with a client for the first time — whether in person, by phone or e-mail — you want to make a good first impression. But before you begin selling them on your product, you need to tell them about yourself. You only get one shot at this and you can’t put the cart before the horse. It’s more important to leave them with a good impression about you than it is about your product. They’ll be comparing your proposal with others and the one thing that will stand out on its own is their first impression of you. So here’s what you need to tell:
• Background and qualifications. This doesn’t have to be done in a droning self-worshiping manner. Subtlety is often the best, such as referring them to your website (providing it gives an accurate overview of your qualifications, etc.).
• What sets you apart from the competition? What is your specialty? That’s what you want to convey to potential clients. They need to be educated that you’re not just another number to cross off their list of suitors.
• How you are going to help them. It’s not enough to listen to what a person wants. You need to be able to process the information they give you and regurgitate it back to them in a way that assures them you not only understand, but have listened to their desires and concerns.
• The personal side of you. This doesn’t have to be a tell-all type of discussion. It’s just a simple fact that most people prefer working with those they trust. And you can only trust people you know.
Never fall short in selling yourself. Working in a custom fabrication market demands it. Think of it from the consumer’s standpoint. Why would they go to a custom maker if there was nothing that set him apart from a mass produced product? They wouldn’t. And it’s up to you to educate them; they’ll never hear it from anyone else.
David Getts is a certified kitchen designer and owner of David Getts Designer Builder Inc. in Seattle.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.