Choose your clients wisely

Several years ago our family took ownership of a small business. Soon afterwards I attended a training meeting offered by our primary vendor. During one session another owner made a statement that has always stuck with me: Do business with people who can afford to do business with you.

One reason he said that was that the product we offered was one of the highest priced products in our field. When quoting jobs we were very unlikely to get the job if the primary concern for the homeowner was cost. My cost for some of our products was more than what some of my competitors quoted for the entire job which included the mark-up on their equipment, labor and taxes. Obviously, for the consumer only comparing prices our competitors would win every time. We either had to offer lower priced equipment or focus our sales on people who could afford to do business with us. We chose the latter.

In order to do that successfully it’s important to differentiate between price and value. We believed we offered superior value over many of our competitors. The equipment we sold was regularly recognized as some of the best in the field, our company had been in business for many years (I was the third owner.), most of our employees had been with the company for most of those years so we had experience over some of our competitors and we had a good reputation in the community. We could not compete on price alone, but when our potential customers wanted true value for the money they invested some other companies could not compete with us. We just had to make sure the difference between value versus price was presented in every interaction with our potential clients.

For several years I had a sign in our showroom that read “(1) We offer the best equipment in town; (2) We offer the best service in town; (3) We offer the lowest prices in town. Now, you may pick any two of the three.”

Some businesses will reduce their mark-up in order to get new clients. We did not. Doing so impacts your bottom line more than some might think and it cheapens your brand. If a client wanted us to reduce our price we would discuss what features or options they were willing to give up for the lower price. “Yes, we can substitute this lower priced item if you want, but here are the features you are losing if you decide to do that.” That helped the client understand there was value in what we were offering, and any substitutions they made to reduce the price would also reduce the value of what they were buying. When you reduce your price without taking anything away you leave a negative impression in your client’s mind that what you were offering didn’t have much value.

A good example of this comes from the last time I bought a car. I went to a different dealership than I usually buy from because they had the car I wanted. As we began to negotiate the price of the car the salesman kept insisting he couldn’t go any lower because of the extended warranty they offered on the car. The car was only three years old with low mileage, and the dealership had put a two-year warranty on the car. The salesman asked if that warranty was important to me. I replied it was, but I wasn’t paying any more for the car just because it had the warranty. Of course, he brought his sales manager over to explain they couldn’t sell the car at my price with the warranty, and I kept insisting they could. Finally, I bought the car at my price with the warranty. That immediately told me that the value of that warranty was highly inflated in their original price of the car. For that, and some other reasons, I won’t be back to that dealership.

There is nothing wrong with targeting people who are seeking the lowest prices for your goods and services. Most of my competitors made a good living serving those folks, and I think they served them well. Because of the product line we offered those individuals could not be our focus. Our marketing and sales strategy had to focus on other potential clients. Regardless of your focus, remember to do business with people who can afford to do business with you, and you should do very well.

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Look for opportunities to brag

Zig Ziglar used to say that some people go around looking for people’s faults like there was a reward for finding them. He challenged people to be “good-finders.” He felt that it was important to look for the good things people were doing and brag about how pleased you are that they are doing those things. Another well-known motivator, Dale Carnegie, used to say that if we give someone a good reputation to live up to they usually will.

I have found that people will often live up to the standard you set for them. If you compliment them for doing certain things they are more often apt to repeat it. If you encourage them to raise the bar a little higher they are likely to do so.

When I was the pastor of a small, rural church I used to tell our congregation how much I believed in them and how I had more faith in them that some of them had in themselves. I kept telling them this until some of them began to believe it for themselves. As a result we accomplished far more than most churches our size would believe possible, and everything we accomplished was due to God’s grace and the fact that our folks really began to believe in themselves.

What happens to a child if they only hear negative comments about them all the time? I’ve heard parents tell their kids that they are lazy, dumb, stupid, and worse. What kind of self-image does that create for these children? Is it likely to be a positive or negative one?

The same is true of the people with whom we associate. If you have people who work for you, do you spend more time pointing out their faults or looking for the good things they do and then complimenting them for that? This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold people accountable or correct them when they make a mistake, but if people only hear from you when bad things happen they aren’t going to be very happy to see you come around. They are also going to work fearful of making a mistake which probably increase the possibility they will.

I encourage you to look for good things in the people you are around day after day. Compliment them for those good things. I bet it will make a difference in their lives, and in yours.

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Giving back

It’s been awhile since I posted anything. My wife and I spent a couple of weeks on vacation in Florida so I went off the grid. It’s not a vacation if you spend your time on social media and doing work related things. That’s easy to do with laptops and smartphones, so I just resist the temptation and enjoy my time away.

When we returned I had to prepare for an auction I did for Habitat for Humanity. Our local chapter had contacted me a couple of weeks before we began our vacation to ask if I could have an auction for them. An individual who believed in their work had donated a large assortment of tools and small primitive items which they wanted to sell. They weren’t sure if the items were worth selling at auction, so I looked at them and assured them that it would all sell.

They wanted to know what my fees would be to conduct the auction at their site. I asked if they could get four volunteers to work the auction. When they said that would not be a problem I told them I would charge them nothing for my service. I only asked that they reimburse me for any advertising costs which they quickly agreed to.

I believe strongly in the work of Habitat for Humanity. A member of a church I pastored received a home through Habitat and I know the change it made in that family. I also believe that it’s important to give back to the community. Small businesses can be bombarded with requests to sponsor teams and buy ads in school publications, and you can’t do everything. But, it’s important to remember that we have a responsibility to the communities that support us, and we need to give back when we can especially to those organizations that we believe are doing important work.

The auction was a success. I don’t know the total amount raised as they handled all the money, but I know people paid good money for the more valuable items and everything donated was sold. It was a fun event, and perhaps people were exposed to what Habitat for Humanity does who did not previously know much about the organization.

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How to get the things you want

My favorite motivational speaker is Zig Ziglar. I attended numerous motivational conferences in which he was one of the speakers. Even though I knew most of what he would say before he said it, I still listened to every word. Years ago I bought his three volume tape (cassette!) series on goal setting and followed it religiously. Most of the books he wrote are in my library. One of the many things he said that is locked in my memory bank is “You can have anything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.”

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says the same thing in his excellent book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money  He writes, “Befriend many people who are a rung or two above and below your financial level, then find ways to help them achieve their desires. You will have discovered the secret of Partnership Power.”

Both of these men want people to understand that when we genuinely serve others and help them achieve their desires, our own needs will be met. The other afternoon a lady called asking questions about auctions. They are moving out of state and need to sell many of their household goods. She asked a lot of good questions and admitted that she would be calling other auctioneers. She confessed to being very stressed as this was the first time she had ever thought about having an auction and she knew very little about how they worked.

Although she was wanting details about how I conduct my auction business what she was really wanting was to reduce the stress she was feeling about having the auction. She is not any different from many of the people who call me about doing an auction for them. One lady, after I explained the process to her and she signed the contract for me to do her auction, breathed a sigh of relief. As her shoulders dropped she said that she felt a huge weight was removed as she didn’t feel stressed any more about having an auction.

I explained in detail to the recent caller how I would conduct her auction, gave her some options to consider and offered to come to her home to look at what she was selling. I kept explaining to her that most people never have more than one or two auctions in their lives, and most are very concerned about having one because they are not familiar with how they operate. I reminded her that her stress was normal, but that a good auctioneer will help relieve that stress as they work with her in getting her items ready for sale. She thanked me, said she was calling some other auctioneers and would get back with me.

Maybe she will and maybe she won’t. She may find an auctioneer closer to where she lives or she might get a referral from a friend who has had an auction. I may never hear from her again, but I will get calls from other people. I will have the opportunity to serve them and help them get what they want, and in the process my business will prosper, and I will be able to get the things I want.

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What do you want most?

In the Pirates of the Caribbeans movie series Captain Jack Sparrow had a magical compass that did not point north. Instead, it pointed to the thing one wanted most. Once the owner of the compass settled in on the thing he or she wanted most, the compass would point in the direction where it would be found.

While none of us has such a magical compass, we do well by having our lives focused on those things we want most out of life. One of the reasons many of us do not have more of what we want is that we allow our lives to be pulled into too many directions, without focus, that keeps us from gaining the things we really want. When we drift through life hoping that the things we want will come our way, they seldom do. It’s only when we are focused on those things we want most are we apt to achieve them.

Several years ago a vendor with whom a company I owned did business had a meeting with one of their most successful dealers as the special speaker. He was there to teach us how we could build up our businesses to be as successful as his. I felt like he was pretty full of himself, but he was giving some good suggestions which I felt were worthy of trying in my own business. He stressed the level of dedication that was required to enjoy the level of success he experienced and made a point of mentioning some of the nice things he owned as a result of that dedication and hard work. However, it was when he mentioned that he was in his third marriage that he lost me. The way in which he said it sounded to me like it was just the price one had to pay for success, and that was a price I was not willing to pay.

In a few weeks my wife and I will celebrate our 53rd anniversary. I wouldn’t trade any of those years for all toys he had accumulated or the success he had achieved. Everyone has to know what is the most important thing they want out of life and then pursue it with a passion. I want to be successful in the things I do but not at the cost of losing my family or compromising my values.

Several years ago I read a book that really helped me put this in perspective. The book was Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Dr. Richard Swenson. In the book he talked about how easy it is to get our lives out of balance due to all the demands on our time. He also wrote about some of the dangers of living life out of balance, some of which I had already experienced. One of the things I realized from reading the book was I had to know what were the most important things to me and how to set boundaries and priorities in my life to ensure that I experienced them. From that point forward it became a matter of discipline and focus. Like Sparrow’s compass, that focus would take me to the thing I most desired.

How focused is your life? Would you say there is a healthy balance in your life, or is your life out of control, constantly being pulled away from the things you want most? Have you ever thought about what is most important in your life, and have you ordered your life so you can experience them?

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Avoiding analysis paralysis

When I first came home from the Navy we lived in the country. The nearest store was a small store in a community with no stop lights. The store had been serving that community for decades. The grocery side of the store consisted of two aisles. A meat department was located where you turned to walk down the second aisle. The meat department had some pre-cut meat, but most of what you wanted the meat cutter would cut fresh for you while you waited. You walked in the door, walked up one aisle buying what you needed, turned the corner and walked down the other aisle completing your purchases. At the end of that second aisle was the cash register. The thing that still amazes me about that store was that you could buy all your groceries there in just two aisles.

They could do that because if you wanted ketchup, they sold ketchup, but they didn’t sell twenty-five varieties of ketchup. The same was true of almost everything else a family needed. Shopping there was a snap because there were not a lot of options. Of course, that store isn’t in operation today. Like most things that existed in a simpler time, they are gone as we have decided we must have more options in our lives.

These options can be good in some instances and not so good in others. Options certainly make it more difficult to make decisions today. There are so many factors to consider today that perhaps did not exist previously. Some people find it almost impossible to make a decision because of these seemingly endless options to consider. This is sometimes called analysis paralysis. We are paralyzed in our decision making because we are waiting for more information to come in.

While every leader wants to make the best decisions possible with the best information available, we have to accept the fact that we will never know everything we need to know before making a decision. Sometimes we have to just make a decision with the information we currently have and be willing to adjust that decision if new information becomes available.

In a previous business I owned our employees were sometimes frustrated by how slow I was in making some decisions. I was a victim of analysis paralysis. I was so afraid of making a bad decision I wouldn’t make any while the problem continued to grow worse. That’s not leadership. It’s irresponsible and costly. It costs time, money and the trust of those who work for you. It can cost you your business.

When we make a decision based on incomplete information that turns out to not be a good one, it’s often not as harmful as not making any decision. While every leader wants to make good decisions all the time that is not always going to happen. None of the decisions we make should be set in stone. Wise leaders understand they may have to alter their decisions as new and better information becomes available. That’s a far better approach than analysis paralysis.

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Beyond ordinary service

The other evening while scrolling through the channels I came upon Undercover Boss. It’s not a show I normally watch, but the part I came up seemed interesting. The boss was the CEO of a large department chain. He was working with a fashion consultant who had impressed him with her ability to know what her clients want and the relationship she seemed to have with them. He asked about her relationships with those clients.

She explained that she knew many of her clients personally and knew what they liked and would probably purchase. She said that when new items came in that she thought people would be interested in she would take pictures on her cell phone and send them in emails to her clients. She had a large number of contacts. She admitted it was against store policy to use personal cell phones for that purpose, but she found that it was a good way to stay in contact with her clients and many of them did come in to purchase the items she sent them.

Later in the show when the CEO revealed himself to the people he worked with he complimented the fashion consultant on the relationships she had developed with her clients and her interactions with them. He was very impressed with the initiative she showed in sending pictures of merchandise she thought they would want to buy to her clients. He was so impressed that he told her that the company would begin providing cell phones and i-Pads to every fashion consultant who worked for the chain so they could begin doing the same thing.

So many people in business are satisfied with providing good customer service that they never think about how they can exceed that and create life-long loyal clients resulting in increased business. Going the extra mile can make a big difference.

Several years ago when I was serving as the pastor of a small church I needed to buy some new suits. I saw where a large department store had a sale on their better suits. I bought one of them and later began to get cards from the salesman (This was before email.). He sent me a birthday card and sent cards letting me know of sales the store was conducting. The next fall I received a card letting me know they had their suits on sale again. I bought two suits that time along with some dress shirts and ties. Every year for the next several years I continued to receive cards from this salesman and I continued to buy a new suit each year. If I went to the store when he wasn’t working I didn’t buy anything until he could wait on me.

One year I went in and learned the salesman had left the company. The salesman I talked to didn’t seem like he was too interested in whether I bought anything or not, so I didn’t. In fact, I never bought another suit from that store.

People want to do business with people they like and who are willing to go the extra mile to provide superior service and products. In fact, they are willing to pay a little more to do business with such people.

Providing superior service isn’t something you do once in a while. It must become something you do every day. Every day you should think about how you can raise the bar on the service you provide your clients. Look for best practices, not only within your field, but best practices that other companies in other fields are doing. Go the extra mile. Build relationships with your clients so they won’t want to do business with anyone but you. You’ll be surprised at how doing so will affect your bottom line, and it will make being in business more fun as well.

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