Small businesses that survive in the long haul have managed to build into their daily practices rules to govern how they conduct business that helps to ensure success. Here are 10.5 rules that have served us well.
#1: Answer your phone with a smile. Seriously. This is often the first impression your customers get and getting this right is extremely important. I’ll never forget hearing, “We ain’t got none,” in response to asking about a part. Talk about a striking impression! Good grammar and a smile go a long way in representing your business.
Today, you’re as likely to have that first contact via social media, text, or email. The same principal applies, only now your response is both faceless and voiceless so how do you answer with a smile? Make sure your greeting includes something upbeat like Good morning, afternoon, or evening and include their name as they gave it in their email or post. Or you can use the more formal Mr., Mrs., or Mr. & Mrs. It depends on the circumstances. Respond to the customer’s issue(s) with full sentences and avoid using slang like OMG, etc. Sign off with “thanks” (if this is informal) or “Sincerely yours,” your full name, and your company info or logo and all contact information.
#2: Be on time for all appointments. If this wasn’t a chronic complaint by consumers, no one would have built a successful plumbing franchise out of being known for being punctual! It still amazes me when a potential client tells me they called several other mechanical contractors who either never show up or fail to follow through with proposals. There’s really no excuse for not calling to reconfirm your appointment. With cell phones so ubiquitous, can there be any excuse for not calling if you’re going to be late?
Courtesy is paramount when visiting the customer’s home or business. We once landed a large hotel remodel job because the other two contractors before me were rude and insulted the female manager who was also to be the construction manager overseeing the 140-room remodel. She asked me if I wanted to know why we were selected? First guy said he felt sorry for her because she had to work in such a s%$#-hole. Second guy kept insisting he wanted to speak with the man in charge!
#3: Bill promptly or collect COD to ensure your bank accounts will be flush with the cash needed for payroll, overhead expenses, and never ever be late paying your monthly supplier statements. Build a cash reserve so that you can self-fund larger and larger projects or to carry you over during times when cash receipts are slower.
Speaking of employees, pay them well, provide great benefits, paid holidays, and paid vacation weeks.
#4: Don’t goof off while your employees are working. Employees often resent the boss(es) going golfing, taking flying lessons, or some other diversion during normal business hours. Your employees are your most important asset. Treat them as you would like to be treated.
#5: Speaking of employees, pay them well, provide great benefits, paid holidays, and paid vacation weeks. This applies to you, too, although you should be last in line.
#6: Provide uniforms and replace them every year to keep your company representatives looking their best. Trucks are rolling billboards and should be maintained to keep up appearances.
#7: Never ever cook the books! Cheating on your bookkeeping is a loser’s game. Dad was a certified public accountant and my trusted advisor. Early on, in 1979, I was tempted to take a pocket-shot when a client paid in cash, Dad told me stories of how several of his clients ended up in hot water with the IRS. While tempting, keeping cash off the books is addicting and what often started out as an occasional off-the-books pocket-shot became habitual, which led to being caught. More than once customers have asked what would the price be if they paid me in cash? Exactly the same if you write a check or pay by credit card because cash gets recorded on the books too.
#8: Advertise locally. School sports programs, yearbooks, theater programs, symphony handouts, and community events. Supporting your local community via advertising dollars keeps your company name front and center and shows your support.
#9: Build and maintain a website. Add content often and consider sending out a monthly newsletter.
#10: Be involved in social media. This is a great way to respond to current weather conditions with useful tips. Avoid politics and religion at all costs. Either subject immediately offends half, or more, of your audience. Same goes for controversial matters, like the current NFL National Anthem debacle. Avoid jokes too. Carefully read what you type before posting.
#10.5: Follow through. Do what you say you’re going to do and never break a promise or go back on your word. Your hard-earned good reputation can be wiped out in a heartbeat if your customers can’t trust you any longer.
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