ET20- Hobby to Profits in Unique Handmade Niche Product

ScreenShot003How Anna Took Her Hobby to Full Time Buisness In Record Time

I had heard of the paper anniversary to mark the first year of marriage but never gave it much thought. But I may be in the minority and for guys looking for gifts for that one year mark it turns out there aren’t a lot of good options.

Which is why finding out you can buy amazing looking jewelry that is actually made from paper was such a good fit for this niche audience. That demand, married with the love of creating tiny paper creations that were beautiful and wearable turned Anna’s hobby into a business.

Ann never planned to be an entrepreneur, but after friends started asking if they could buy her paper jewelry creations she thought she might be on to something. Turns out, she was!

It started slowly, but as demand grew she worked more and more to shift her sideline extra spending money activity into a full throttle business capable of supporting herself and a handful of employees.

Along the way she learned about facebook marketing, building a shopping cart enabled website (more than one!) and how to make products that her customers loved. And she shares the whole start up journey with me on the podcast- it’s a great story and one that is still in the early stages of (bad pun alert) unfolding!

Show Links:

Website: http://paper-anniversary.com/
Email: anna@paper-anniversary.com
Twitter: @Paper_Gifts
Instagram: https://instagram.com/paperanniversaryjewelry
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PaperAnniversary

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Links

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Listen right here:

Transcript

Matt: On today’s episode, I am pleased to welcome Anna V of paper-anniversary.com or Paper Anniversary by Anna V. She’s got some amazing creations. If nothing else, I recommend you check out the website the kind of incredible things that she’s able to make. But thank you so much for taking the time to come on. Why don’t you just kinda jump in give us a little background about how you got started and kinda where you are coming from?

Anna: Thanks so much, Matt, for the introduction and thanks for having me. I’m excited to talk with you on your podcast. To give a little introduction, I have to start back from a long time ago when I was like 9 or 10 years old. I was really artistic and I was really obsessed with making paper cranes. That was only the thing that I wanted to do on my free time. Folding these origami paper cranes eventually turned into just experimenting but making different jewelry on paper. I never saw this turning into a business. It was just a way that I would spend my time and decompress. Eventually, different men from the UK and Australia were finding my design and emailing me and asking if I could make a special paper anniversary gift for their wives. I didn’t know that there’s a tradition where you give paper for your first wedding anniversary. This was just the beginning of me discovering that there is a market for people looking for paper gifts for their anniversary. I got started and I decided to choose a really narrow marketing niche. I decided to become an expert in making first anniversary gift for loving husband looking for something for their wife.

Matt: Nice! That’s something that I think a lot of people have heard of but I don’t think, at least until you came along, there was much of a focus on a specific gift market for that. Was that what you’ve found or was it really anybody that was suggesting that particular area?

Anna: Exactly. A lot of people, their anniversary is coming up a few days and they go to Google looking for something and they also try a lot of generic gift sites but have just a whole variety of gifts ideas but there’s nothing really specific with a personalized touch. That’s what I saw in the really early days. They were really drawn to the personal types. The fact that I have made this paper jewelry and the fact that there was a whole story and symbolism behind it, there was really nobody out at that time doing that – selling something online that was so specific and personalized rather than just a general gift site. I decided to do something different and be an expert in that and do something as specific as possible.

Matt: And this started just because it was a personal interest of yours to do these really intricate paper designs and other people saw them and decided that would be something cool but they weren’t gonna do it for themselves, so they’ll get it from you? This was just something you kind of happened into. It wasn’t your plan from the beginning to start a business around doing paper and sort of the other way. The business resulted from people being intrigued by your designs?

Anna: Exactly. I had a totally different life path charted for myself. I went to graduate school. I became a speech therapist and I was working in some elementary schools and in private practice for a while. This was just really my hobby that I would do it at night just to distress. I was just lucky that I started listening to some feedback. People that were giving me their advice and sharing their excitements about this idea of the gift. If I hadn’t listened to what these men were telling me, this would’ve never happened. No, I did not start up with the idea of having a business. I never thought this would turn into something that I would get to do for a living.

Matt: That’s funny that you would use this to distress because I think if I try to fold these tiny little paper things, that would make me super stress. I don’t think I could do that and be stress-free at the same time. These are really intricate designs. Just looking through the website and looking at some of the images, they were really cool. But you are sort of the opposite that I have online, sort of wanted to be entrepreneurs but they weren’t sure what they would get into. You have no plans to be an entrepreneur. You just have a passion for your particular hobby. That turned into a business which is very cool. You said you just started to get some inquiries from people who wanted to buy at that point, what kinda turn the corner for you where you said “Okay. I’m gonna make an actual effort to turn this into a business.”?

Anna: As a hobby, I just had a small website that I have some designs up on and this was a long time ago. I’m not sure if SCO was easier in those days but I knew nothing about keywords. Somehow, people were finding my website. After maybe 5 or 6 people asked about using it as their first anniversary gift, then I quit. I thought “I’m gonna try this angle. Just marketing to these men looking for a gift and just to experiment and see if that works.”

Matt: So you went to figure out how to set up a shopping cart and enable people to actually order designs and made the effort to kind of layout some products that you’d be able to replicate to fill orders for and then just took a flyer to see what would happen?

Anna: Exactly. Since it was a hobby of mine and I never had really serious intention of anything turning into it, I spent years and years just dabbling in growing the business on the side, learning how to make my own business card, learning how to make the best packaging, learning how shipping works, designing my product and then little by little I was leaning about web design and the basics of coding. In the beginning, it was nothing professional and presentable, but since I spent just so long as side interest, I had time to like use the trial-and-error and learn from myself how to make it really good. It was 2014 that I decided to finally make something professional out of it. I did some research online about the best e-commerce platform and I decided to go with Shopify. I thought it was the best the e-commerce platform that would be able to grow with my business. There’s a lot of different aps that you can add on as your customers need more pictures on the website. It was just really intuitive and simple for me to understand. So, I signed up for Shopify and over the course of the weekend, I just sat in a coffee shop, uploaded a few items, put a biography and the site was up.

Matt: Wow! That sounds like a good commercial for Shopify. We’ll send them a bill. Well, that’s awesome. I think it’s supposed to be easy, hopefully. Its 2015. Building an e-commerce site should not have to be as hard as it used to be in the old days. Certainly, your site looks fantastic so they’ve done a good job on that. Now that you’ve got a site, a professional presentation, was that where you transitioned to doing this full-time or were you still working at that point supplementing your income? I guess. I don’t know if the site is the income or the working was a supplement or vice versa. But some point, it must have flipped over for you.

Anna: Yeah. At that point where I built a website, I still wasn’t really thinking big. I thought “Maybe I’ll sell a few things in months.” I went on vacation to Florida for a few days and all of the sudden, I opened my email in the morning and I had like 6 orders in one day. I was completely surprised and that was the first moment when I thought “Wow! This could actually turn into something.” So, I would say about 6 months after I build the site, I was able to quit my job. I was doing 2 jobs in the beginning and it was really challenging kind of splitting my time and my passion into 2 totally different directions. So I decided finally that if I wanted to really have my focus on this and have this be my primary passion. I needed to just devote my good hours of the day to this project.

Matt: Yeah. I think once you become serious about it, you realize you really have to do it full-time or else it’s never gonna get over that hump and be what it could be. So, now, are you still the main or the only creator or your products? Are you still the one that does each one of these by hand or have you gotten some help at this point to help you get through all the orders?

Anna: Yeah. Very early on that, I knew that I needed some help. I was staying up late at night making things bend over my desk at the same time, trying to do customer service, running to the post office and I was feeling like I was about to burn out pretty quickly. When you are the one having to make everything, you could lose the passion for it because it’s physically exhausting and time consuming. So, early on, I went on and started looking for some other really talented people who I would be able to teach my techniques to because these are techniques that I had taught myself and developed and it was challenging to find but I was able to find someone and train them and I now have somebody helping me with making good products and making sure that they are perfectly intricate. It lets me keep my passion for the business and also devote a lot of time to marketing and growing things and doing everything kinda from the back end of the business.

Matt: Well, I’m sure there’s still, aside from making the products, you still got to come up with new designs and source all the materials for actually building them and then come up with the packaging and do all the website stuff but there’s plenty of work to do. I have no doubt. What have you figured out in terms of marketing to grow? Again, once you kinda decided “Okay. These 6 orders in one day, this thing is for real.” And then, you turn the corner and want to do it full-time. Then, you really gonna ramp up the volume. What did you do to grow your business from there aside from just getting SEO results?

Anna: The most challenging thing I think about running a business is the marketing because you can control the product. You can make something as perfect and beautiful and customer friendly as possible but marketing is constantly changing. Different marketing strategies that I was using in the very beginning had totally changed. I had a gap and get used to marketing channels, burning out and having to starting over with a new approach. For example, Facebook advertising was very good for my business in the beginning. I was able to run some Facebook ads, get a lot of people interested and purchasing things. Market has changes and different features in ad words and Facebook ads so Facebook, I’m no longer focusing so much attention on right now because it wasn’t working after a while. I kinda go through a process of experimenting all different advertising channels to see if it’s gonna work and then choose the one that I’m gonna focus on. Is any of you, the listeners, haven’t read the book Traction? It’s a wonderful book to give a brainstorm about all different marketing channels that you might not usually think of as the ones that you’re gonna use. That’s really been helpful for me.

Matt: You mentioned Facebook worked for a while and then kinda stopped kinda giving you the ROI you were hoping for. What are some of the things that you see that are working today?

Anna: Well, I’m in the process of experimenting with whole new channels that have just been released in the last few months. So, Instagram has just released marketing connected with Facebook. They have promoted pins now on Pinterest and Pinterest advertising. These are totally new so they are just accepting people to start using them. So, I’m experimenting with these and see where they are gonna go. But it’s really good to be like subscribing on different email list and blog just to know right when a new marketing channel is released because in the beginning, there’s not always so many people using it. It was a good time to experiment with it and be one of the first adopter.

Matt: Yeah. I think a lot of people have had success. Ad words in the very early days was inexpensive and effectives. Then, Facebook ads and on and on. It’s constantly trying to stay in front of that wave and be one of the first adopters. As long as the audience is there, you can usually find something that will work for you at least for a while. The problem is over time. It becomes less effective and sometimes not effective at all. I would imagine one of the challenges with your business to be a paper anniversary once a marriage. So, you have the challenge of once they come and bought and even if they’ve been extremely happy which I’m sure they are, then, where do you go from there? Are you constantly looking for new clients? Right?

Anna: Exactly. One thing that I didn’t know starting out was that the challenge of helping your customers find you and not underestimating marketing costs. I think a lot of people open an e-commerce shop not knowing how much it actually costs to acquire a customer. Starting out, pricing my products, I didn’t know to account for all of those extra costs that goes into marketing and advertising. Over time, I’ve had to learn. I’ve seen a lot of people who priced their products taking into account how much the product takes to produce and how much the materials are but at the end of the day they are not making any profit. They’ve taken all the consideration all the costs that goes into it. This is something really challenging and really surprising to know how much costs goes into the marketing especially the ad words and the PPC channel.

Matt: Definitely. You have to have all of your crossed absorbed in that one sale vs. people where they are making recurring sales and can advertise the cost over lifetime value. I would imagine that most of your sales are one and done. Although, that might be something. If people buy from you and they really like what they get, if you can come up with some other products, non-anniversary related products and email those satisfied buyers, you may be able to increase that over time. But obviously, all of that, as you said, is just a matter of experimentation.

Anna: Exactly. I do have a lot of happy customers right now for the holidays ordering an extra gift for their wife. And I am also working with my friend, Chris, who runs theanniversary.co and we are working together to create other beautiful jewelry gift for all of the other anniversary because each year has a different traditional material associate with it. The 2nd anniversary is the cotton anniversary, etc. we are working together on trying to give the customers a continuous tradition that they can stick with during their whole marriage and not just dropping off after the first.

Matt: Yeah. That would be great. Cotton, I’ve never heard of that. I guess you got a nice sets of sheets. I’m not sure what else you do out of cotton but you probably have some good ideas. Not my department I guess.

Anna: Andy Samberg was just on Ellen DeGeneres last week and he told Ellen that he’s been following this anniversary tradition and for his paper anniversary, he gave his wife a piece of paper that said “You can buy the table you want.” For the second, he gave her a sweatshirt for the cotton anniversary that had a grandma got run over by a reindeer on it.

Matt: Okay. Wow!

Anna: You know, there’s just funny ideas out there but not only so many elegant and beautiful ones. That’s really what we are aiming to do.

Matt: Right. What have you done? It sounds like you’ve put some systems in place. You switched to a more sophisticated shopping carts. Are there anything else that you’ve done to kind make the business run more smoothly so you can focus on the parts that you do best?

Anna: I have been working on finding people that are really talented and that you can really trust to delegate different things too and learn from their expertise. For example, a really good Google ad word manager, people who work in PR, people who work in blogging, there’s people whose expertise is bad and it might take them a quarter of the time that it takes me to learn about those things and manage them. So, delegating has been challenging but it’s been something that’s been able to free up my time and allow my to do the things that I’m best at which are developing wonderful products and interacting with the customers, making sure that the experience is a match for them and just spend working on making everything a little bit more automatic. How to make social media management more automatic and less time consuming for us?

Matt: It’s one of the things that we see all the time too as bookkeeping. A lot of people have tried to do it themselves but they threw up a lot of time doing it and a lot of times, they are not doing it correctly because they are not experienced in it. They don’t have any education in it and so they are making mistakes. Sometimes, these even end up costing the money. So, I think, knowing when to delegate, even though it does cost something, your time is generally more valuable than whatever you’re paying to delegate out something that you don’t do that well anyway. It’s just one of the lessons that entrepreneurs have to learn the hard way more often than not after other experiences trying to do everything themselves and just running out of time in the day and then finding out, they would’ve had a lot better result if they’ve given it to an expert in the first place anyway.

Anna: Exactly. I will admit that. I was a little bit nervous when I knew that were gonna be talking because I generally don’t get along well with accounting.

Matt: Fair enough.

Anna: Accounting is really the least interesting aspect of my business and for a long time I put it off until Tax season. I really wasn’t looking at any of my finances until April came around. I learned the hard way that you have to look at that before you even start selling because all those costs that are going into the product, you need to know because that really determines how much you are charging the customers and how much you’re gonna be making. So I appreciate reaching out and getting to experts to help you in the things that you don’t want to do or that you don’t have the time to devote too.

Matt: I definitely think of myself as an entrepreneur first or an entrepreneur who happens to do accounting vs. an accountant. So maybe that’s why I don’t seem as scary as you’ve thought. I mean, I understand entrepreneurs because I am an entrepreneur. I think a lot of accounting professionals understand accounting but have less experience with business and maybe have only ever done accounting. They just have a different view of the world than I do maybe. I think that helps with a lot of my small business. I think I’m a little bit relatable on that level. But to your point, the accounting, the numbers of your business are one of the key elements of it. That does not only see what you’ve done but it will help decisions going forward. Not tackling it, well, I understand. There was a recent poll that bookkeeping was actually the number one most hated small business task. That made me feel good. But you’re definitely not alone at all in putting it off and not tackling it till tax time. A lot of people just associate it with taxes but it’s actually a business information system and something that if you do it and keep it up and do it right can actually help you not only run your business better but I find it kinda rewarding to see how the sales grow over time and profits grow over time. It’s a way of keeping track of your success in black and white vs. just “I feel busier.” Or “It seems like we’ve got more orders or whatever.” You can see your bank balance actually improving and your profits improving and everything else. But, not doing it yourself is probably a good idea for most people.

Anna: One of the things that I’ve learned, Matt, through running this business is how good it feels when you find someone who’s passion is the thing you hate the most. I cannot stand accounting and I cannot stand Google ad words analytics or anything with analytics. It’s just not how my brain works. The minute I was able to find somebody to help me with it like the Google analytics is the best feeling because there’s someone out there who’s passion is what you detest and that’s wonderful.

Matt: Yeah. I hear it all the time. People say “It’s been a great peace of mind to find you because now I know you can take of it. I don’t have to worry about it. You’ll do a great job and I won’t have to think about it.” So, it makes a lot of sense that works on both levels. And I always tell people, “I don’t do my own plumbing for the same reason I don’t like to mess with plumbing. It’s not my thing. I much rather have an expert come in and take care of it for me and then I don’t have to worry about it.” Same concept. So, where does your business go from here? You mentioned you’re working on some partnerships and growing your product line and so on. Where do you kinda see things going over the next 12 to 24 months?

Anna: I’m gonna be taking a vacation the next 2 weeks, the last 2 weeks of December and then starting in 2016, I have a whole new game plan. I’m gonna be trying out new marketing channels, working possibly with the PR agency to get the word out there in ways that I haven’t tried yet. I would just like to help more loving spouses find me because I know there’s a lot of people out there looking for something perfect for their anniversary. My customers are genuinely really happy. I have over 400 5-star reviews so I know that if I find the people who I’m looking, I can really help them have a memorable anniversary. I really just want to work on in increasing my visibility online and offline and keep doing what I love.

Matt: That’s awesome. I have a lot of conversations with different entrepreneurs and a lot of times it comes back to just focus. Focus on what you do really well and if you do it really well and you spread the word that pretty much guarantees that you’ll reach success sooner or later. You already had success but it’s just a matter of getting bigger and bigger and getting the word out more and having even more people see your designs and have an opportunity to purchase your kind of amazing products there because I think they are super cool. My paper anniversary has long since pass by but I would certainly recommend it to any of my newlywed friends to check it out. To that point, for people who are interested, where’s the best place for them to go and find you?

Anna: The online website is paper-anniversary.com. I also have an active Facebook page. That’s just called Paper Anniversary. The Instagram is @PaperAnniversaryJewelry.

Matt: Awesome! Well, I really appreciate your time coming on and sharing your story and telling us some of your start up struggles and challenges and the success that you’ve reached. It’s been great to hear your journey. Again, thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Anna: Well, thank Matt! And thanks so much for helping out entrepreneurs like us and supporting us in our endeavors.

Matt: No problem. Whatever I can do to help, I feel like it’ll always come back. There is such a thing as business karma. So, if I can help somebody else along the way, id figure one way or the other. It’s just helping the world. Overall, it will come back. It’s all good.

Anna: Well, thank you!

Matt: Alright! Have a great rest of your day!

Anna: Bye!

ET19- Crowdfunding Success and Unique Product Launch Profits

How A New to The World Product Found Success

ScreenShot011Launching a brand new product is no easy feat and even more so when that product is something that doesn’t even have any comparable competition to match. Now, you have to educate the market as well as make sales.

Even with those hurdles the guys at Innovative Lifestyles have done amazingly well! Their product has fantastic reviews, good reorder rates, had a very successful campaign on Indiegogo and is promoted by many in the natural remedies market.

All that’s left now is to let the rest of the world know what they’ve been missing! Very cool interview with a ton of good tips for anyone going down the same road. Continue reading

ET18- Buying Dirt (Literally) for Massive Passive Income

How to Buy Land and Flip It For Huge Gains and Use Systems to Make It Passive

ScreenShot011They don’t call Mark Podoloski the Land Geek for nothing! He has pioneered a system for finding unwanted and under-valued land and buying it dirt cheap only to turn around and flip it to an interested buyer for big gains.

Even better, he has figured out how to automate much of the system so it becomes almost passive income and in the case of installment sales literally passive income that can stream in for years down the road.Very eye opening conversation and it left me with lots of food for thought! Continue reading

ET17- Ditching the Cubicle for Health and Wealth

How Sara Left Her Cube to Start Her Own Fast Growing Training Business

ScreenShot011It’s not easy to walk away from a comfortable job, good paycheck and well defined career path for the unknown wilds of entrepreneurship. It’s not easy that is unless you can’t stand one more day of soul sucking monotony and feeling like you simply are wasting your time and your life doing something you’d almost be willing to pay to leave!

Sara had a great job but gave it up to follow her passion teaching people to live healthier and more active lives. The journey hasn’t been easy and there have been sacrifices but she wouldn’t go back for anything.

Great interview and very inspirational for anyone who finds themselves in the same position. Continue reading

ET16- How Any Business Can Win w/5 Star Service

How to Wow Your Customers Like Disney Does

ScreenShot011Lots of small business seem the same and are more or less the same- until it comes to service.

If you can deliver amazing service to your clients you are going to stand out, be able to charge more, get more referrals and generally do a lot better than your ho-hum competitors.

In my chat with Vance Morris he gives some very specific examples and tactics of how business owners can use amazing service and a wow experience to make their businesses stand out from the crowd and leave the competition in the dust.

Show Links:

Website: http://www.deliverservicenow.com/
Email: vance@chesapeakeservicesolutions.com
Twitter: @DlvrProfitsNow
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vancemorris

Referrals

If you would like to make $100 for referring someone to our bookkeeping service, go here.
If you think you could potentially refer a lot of people to us (or more than one or two, anyway) check out our affiliates page.

Links

Our itunes link for Entrepreneur Talk Podcast
Our Stitcher link for Entrepreneur Talk Podcast

Listen right here:

Transcript

Matt: I am excited to welcome to today’s show, Mr. Vance Morris, coming to us from Maryland. He is the owner/founder of deliverservicenow.com. He’s got a long and interesting story here and his background and startup. With that, let me just hand it over to you. Kinda give us where you came from and how you got to where you are now.

Vance: Great! Well, thanks very much for having me on. I appreciate you taking the time. I really started, I guess, back in college. I’ve been working my entire life – Fast forwarding quite a bit, after college I spent 10 years at the Walt Disney Company down in Orlando, Florida. Opened up their Yacht and Beach Club Resorts which is over by FCut Center. Spent some time as a manager and duty manager for Pleasure Island which was Disney’s ten-year sale experiment with alcohol and nightlife but it’s no longer there so I’m guessing they buried it well. But really, what I enjoyed the most was creating and opening up a phenomenal restaurant at Disney which is called Chef Mickey. It was their premiere character dining destination. I took all of the years of Disney Experience and really invested it into one operation. Everything about guest service, everything about systems and systemizing your business. I mean, our restaurant was 400+ seats and we have to get Mickey Mouse through that restaurant in 43 minutes to serve 400 people which is no small feet and doing that was really just a sense of pride. Everybody on the team, managers and hourly cast members, we’re really just excited that we pull this thing off. Actually, just recently in the last few years, they added another 75 seats to the place. I can only imagine how well it is going. We have to balance that though with what the company wanted. We needed to be profitable. How do you provide a great client experience or a great guest experience and balance it with the needs of the company to be a profitable experience? That’s what certainly my huge exercise. I managed that operation for over 3 and a half, almost 4 years, before I left. And yes, people do leave Disney. Before you ask that question, it does happen. We’re not outcasts or anything like that. I went on to work with a number of – some of your listeners may know of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Centers. I worked for some Federal Government Agencies, the Executive Offices of the President, the IRS, NASA and really worked to improve their contract services and the services that others provided to the employees of those organizations. Some of your listeners might be able to relate in the big bad corporate world, especially in the Federal Government. There have been a ton of layoffs. I’ve found myself getting laid off actually twice. First time, I bounced back pretty quickly. Second time, I was like “I’m not putting my hand or excuse me, my sate in anyone else’s hands. I’m gonna go out and do my own thing.” So, I bought a franchise. As I mentioned, I’m a big systems guy. I was looking for something that had the framework to run a business. But then also gave me the flexibility to do what I needed to do in my market place. So, I opened up not knowing the first thing about carpet cleaning or an upholstery cleaning heck I barely vacuumed. But I opened up a carpet upholstery and oriental rug cleaning business back in 2007. If you think about what happened in ’07 that was a hell of a year to open up any business or be in business with the financial implosion right around the corner. But, not knowing anything, starting in zero and going up, it did really face me because I was going up while everybody else is going down. So I felt good. That led to – people are starting to see the success that I had with that business. Some of my fellow franchisers hired me to come in and help them with their service and their marketing. We really built that up. I actually turned that 2nd business into a full time business. I still own the franchise which is the carpet cleaning franchise but I also coach and teach other implement Disney style service and more importantly how to market that
and monetize that which brings us here to today. That is my 4 and a half minute version of who I am.

Matt: Well, there’s a couple of points that particularly jump out to me there. One of them is the restaurant experience because after I got out of College, before I went back and got an MBA, I was in restaurant management for a number of years. Although I kinda hated it at that time because it always [inaudible 0:11:04.6] and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. Even at that time, especially in hindsight, I learned some really valuable lessons there on things have to have a process. There has to procedures. There has to be a system for things to work well and I got eventually promoted to the point where I was sent to the underperforming units to fix them up. I could see, first hand, in each one it almost always – no matter what the surface problems were – it could be traced back to a failure of management and even more specifically a failure of management to follow the systems that they should’ve been following to make things work in the first place. To me, it was really an eye opening lesson in how to have a well-runned business. Obviously, there’s room for improvement in systems. There should be some flexibility to make improvements and changes. But overall, you got to start with a good base of systems if you want to be successful. That was something it sounds like you’ve learned as well.

Vance: Definitely. I’m glad I did because I carried that forward everywhere that I went. You look at some of the systems whether be the employee systems, whether be culinary systems, financial systems or whatever, you are actually right. If you can manage a restaurant, there really isn’t a job out there that you can’t do because you look at the breathe of people that you interact with over the course of the day. You’re interacting with guests. Depending on your restaurant, it could be some very high-profile guests. Then in the next minute, you’re on the back with the dishwasher because something’s broken. In the minute, you’re frying French fries. In the next minute, you’re expediting. Then you’re right back out front with the hostess and working with the public again. You have to have a seamless transition between each one of those areas and that look like you likely have 3 heads and you’re fallen apart at the senses. I definitely agree with you. Being a restaurant manager certainly prepared me for everything else that I’ve done.

Matt: Well, it is a kind of a pressure cooker environment because sometimes you’re literally putting out fire.

Vance: Yes. I’ve been there.

Matt: But most of the time its figurative fires but there’s just things coming at you from all the directions all the time. You learned to keep a cool head and you learned to kinda rely on your systems and your training, providing better training for the people working for you, make sure life is easier and you can see what works and what doesn’t. all of the clients that we have are small business clients. There’s a definite pattern. Those who that tend to be successful and tend to be growing, they’ve taken a time to established consistent ways of doing things. The ones that tend to be running around like chicken with their heads cut off is because every day seems like the reinvention of the wheel. That makes it tough to grow when you are constantly just trying to solve problems. The same problems you had yesterday, you trying to solve them again today.

Vance: I think one of the things too that really helped was you discovered that there’s no unimportant job in a restaurant. Every single job there is necessary to ensure that the place runs – from the dishwasher to the bartender. A lot of people forget, especially the back of the house which is what we call the cooks and culinary folks when you’re a non-restaurant, non-foodie types. The dishwashers, they are always wondering “Why is my job so important?” One of the exercises we did when we hired new dishwashers is I would have the chefs prepare an exquisite meal and we will set the table to the nines with a 3-course beautifully prepared whether it was a steamed lobster, a fine bakery dish, we will set the table and bring the dishwashers out to dine at this exquisite meal. But the twist was that we set it with very dirty plates – lipstick stained wine glasses, spotted, and food-crusted silverware. All of the sudden, you can see all of the little light bulbs going off in all the dishwashers head that said “Look! Your job is extremely important because no matter what we put on to this plate, if the plates not clean to begin with the experience of the guests is gonna be a complete turn off and we’ll never see them again.” From then on, we have the loyalty of everyone in the restaurant because as management, we knew that every position counted. I think that was a really powerful message and a great way to support that even just the dishwashers, sometimes they are the heroes of the restaurant world.

Matt: Yeah. Personally, I’ve never understood places where they’ll put the lowest paid, least trained, least personable person either answering the phones or working at the hostess station or whatever. If this is your first impression on customers and new customers, is that really the person that you want to be making that impression. In my business, the people that answer the phones here are the ones that know the most, that can be the most helpful, that can solve problems, that can help clients that call or new clients, answer questions. It just seems backwards. But you’re right. If you don’t really appreciate that every position has an impact on the business, you can definitely blow it for yourself. Along those lines, obviously you’ve got the restaurant experience for systems and process but then you got the Disney experience the “wow” service. Obviously, that’s something you’ve learned from Disney but you carried forward to now. How do you roll that into your current business?

Vance: Certainly, there’s a lot of different ways that we “wow-ed” our clients. As we talked a little bit before we started recording, we have what we would call a very commoditize business. I mean, we’re carpet cleaners. You would even go so far as to say that were kind of underhined and swarmy and we don’t hold the very highest steam as far as home services businesses. I mean, Deck ABCs 20/20, they are big expose on what carpet cleaners do, with hidden cameras, while they are in your home and you’re not watching. You know, stealing the chains from in between the cushions, drinking out of the milk from the refrigerator. These are already a big stigma with my industry and one of the things I wanted to do is to make sure that I separated myself from all of those shenanigans and all of those – we call them the [inaudible 0:18:12.1] – the guys who have a garden hose and a shot back and they call themselves carpet cleaner. One of the ways that we “wow” and there’s a lot of systems to back this up, it is just the macrocosm of what we do but it’s how we approach the house when one of my technicians pulls up. First and foremost, they are in a clean van. Go figure. We’re a cleaning company. We should have a clean vehicle. We don’t pull in to the driveway right away. We park out on the street because we’re going to somebody’s home. We want to be invited in before – we don’t just assume that they’re going to let us in. the technicians are in a clean uniform. If he has a dirty uniform, he carries an extra one in the van for those mishaps. If he spilled coffee or his last job was messy, he always has an extra uniform so it’s always looking crystal clean. If you think about some of the folks that come to your house to fix things, plumbers, electricians, pest control, a lot of these guys look like they just kinda rolled out of the gutter. They smell like smoke. Their pants are undone. They don’t have a uniform. I wouldn’t let that guy in my house if he looked like that. When they approach the door, we lay down a special
matt, kind of laying down a red carpet. We knock. We don’t ring the doorbell. Visitors and strangers ring the bell. People that we know, and guests and friends, knock on the door. We wait for the person to open the door. We have a gift with this. We actually give our clients a small gift. It sets the stage psychologically for a little bit of resupressity later on in the sales presentation but anytime you go to a friend’s house for a party, usually you bring something. Whether it be a bottle of wine, or you brought a side dish or something like that, my guys all bring a small house warming gift. We present that even before we get into the house. “Ma’am, we brought you a nice little gift here. We’d love to be able to clean your home. My name is Robert. May I come in?” then, we wait to be invited in. it just goes from there. The entire sales cycle, the entire sales process is very scripted but it’s all scripted around “wowing” the client with the different things that we can do. Right from the [inaudible 0:20:33.4], from opening the door, people are just blown away. We make an exaggerated effort of wiping our feet on this red carpet but we do it and people are just completely amazed. When was the last time electrician or a plumber wipe their feet later on took off their shoes before they came into your house? That’s just one way that we are “wowing” people.

Matt: Well, and I think the interesting point about that is those are lessons that virtually any small business, whether or not you interact with people in a face-to-face basis or if it’s over the phone or what have you, I think you can take the entire process from initial contact all the way through to final thank you, have a nice day. Look at it, and kinda “How can we improve this step? How can we improve that step? What can we do that would be well-received by the client and make us look fair ably honest and improve their experience?” you may have done a dozen things just in a few minutes. Even just a few of those things I think can make a significant difference. That’s something any business can take to heart and do.

Vance: Yeah. You’re actually right. One of the other cool things, especially Bricks and Motor Business, is if you have an office, set yourself apart from the rest of whatever niche you happened to be in. I worked with a dentist and we made it into – we got him to agree that he didn’t just want to be a general dentist. He wanted to be a pediatric dentist. Okay, great. We could have a lot of fun with this. [Excuse me] So, we set up his office and he became the pirate dentist. We outfitted his office. To the nines, setting his office up to look like a pirate ship. Everybody was wearing pirate scrubs. The dentist wore eye patch, not during procedures, but he had an eye pad. We didn’t call anybody wenches. Again, this was a pediatric dental place. But he became the pirate dentist. He had peter pan stuff all over the place, the video games that he set up for the kids to play in the lobby. You know, you’re at a dentist office. The least thing you want to think about is what’s gonna happen when you get behind the door. The way his lobby was set up was so disarming for the gets that they forgot they were at the dentist office. They were playing games. They were having fun. The whole place, you didn’t see the [inaudible 0:23:13.9] hanging on the wall. You didn’t see models that are smiling. You see pirate stuff and it was really cool. Really decide who your niches are gonna be and who your perfect client is. You don’t have to go to that great of that extent or that great of an expense to transform your business, your physical business. But you should do something that’s gonna express your personality, that’s gonna express what it is that you’re trying to do for your clients. It’s just funny. You mentioned you’re a bookkeeper. I worked with a bookkeeper and she decided that she was going to niche herself into only being a veterinary bookkeeper so she only works with veterinarians. The cool thing about doing that is once you start to specialize, you get some of what we call “Price Elasticity” or “Fee Elasticity”. Because you’re now a specialist in veterinary accounting as oppose to just a general bookkeeper or general accountant, you can now command higher prices. You don’t think that pirate dentist doesn’t get higher prices. He doesn’t rely on insurance for a lot of his work because people are mostly private pay. Obviously you know, insurance probably wouldn’t pay for the video games and all the other stuff that they are doing. But when you really start to focus on who your perfect client avatar is and start to serve that particular niche, there’s a lot of you can do with your pricing. There’s a lot of elasticity that I think a lot of business owners miss out on.

Matt: Well, yeah. I think a lot of people are afraid to get too narrow because they expect that means they gonna miss out on a lot of business they could’ve otherwise done. That may be true in the short term. But I think in the long term, you have a lot more to benefit if you can serve a particular market really well rather than serving a general market sort of so-so, not much different from everyone else.

Vance: I don’t remember who said it but they said “There are riches in niches.” I do the same thing in my carpet cleaning business. We are not the cleaner for everyone. My marketing, and most marketing should be designed not only to attract your perfect client but also to repel those you don’t want to do business with. There are folks out there in my area that live in a single wide trailer. They got a 3-legged dog and a confederate flag. I’m not making this up. I’ve been to this house. I don’t want to go back. That’s just not the type of client that is going to appreciate the level of service that we are gonna provide nor that is somebody that I wanted. Once you start become a commodity, the only thing that you can compete on is price. The more you can make yourself non-commoditize, if I’ve just invented a word, I’m not sure. The faster you can do that, the faster it’s gonna be to the price elasticity. Once you get that, you don’t have to work quite as hard. I would rather have 10 clients paying me 10 times at much than a hundred clients paying me at my regular fee. There’s less headaches. There’s less to do. I’ve got more time to me and I can focus all of my efforts on those 10 clients. You’re right. The short term, they may feel a little bit of a pinch but long-term strategy should really be find a niche and just serve the living daylights out of it.

Matt: Then, the better you serve it, one of the things that comes from that, from standing out, from being the pirate dentist if you will, is you tend to get more referrals. One of the things I noticed on something you’ve written here, one of the things you refer to in document referrals is your business must be tellable. Could you enlighten me a little bit on what that means and how that relates to great service and getting more referrals?

Vance: Sure. And it goes right back to what we’ve just talked about. Your business to be tellable is when a customer leaves, or a client leaves, or guest, or whatever you call them in your particular business. When they leave, what are they going to say about your business? Are they going to have a phenomenal experience and tell 10 people? Or did they have an average experience and say “That’s what I expected from my bookkeeper.” “that’s what I expect from my local restaurant.” Not really excited. They may have had an average experience. For some people and some business owners, average is okay. To me, average is not okay because I got to spend more time and effort to get that new clients in an average business. Whereas if you have an extra ordinary and a tellable business, you don’t have to work so hard or spend as much in your client acquisition or your marketing and lead generation because you already got an army of people who have come through and will do that for you. If they can leave your place and they’re like “Oh my god! You’ll never guess. The carpet cleaner brought me a gift!” and “Your carpet cleaner brought you a gift? What the heck is that all about? Tell me more.” Now, your business becomes a conversation point. I can’t tell you the number of clients that we’ve gotten just from that gift. People are so “Oh! I want to make sure I get the gift.” [Inaudible 0:28:59.3], we ran out of gifts one day. The whole thing about referrals I just think is, there’s a lot of garbage out there about referrals. I know there’s referral organizations and things like that but asking for referrals is probably one of the worst things you could do. You’re putting the person in the bad position. You don’t know yet if they are truly a raving fan of yours or not. You’ve got to set your referrals up more subtlety and have a complete referral systems set up. In all of my businesses, I set up the expectation that you will refer me. That’s the message that I’m delivering, “In order to do business with me, I expect referrals.” Now, I can’t come out and say that. I’ll look like a complete jerk and probably wouldn’t get any business. However, in all of my marketing I put it in there. I have a section in my newsletter thanking my clients for the people that they refer. That’s setting it up a little bit. At the end of the service, we hand out certificates that that client can give to their friends for a free room of carpet cleaning or if it’s with my service consulting business for a 20-minute consultation with me. They have a certificate that they give it off. Then I’m gonna probably have a dozen ways to generate and cultivate referrals without having to go to any of my clients and tap them on the shoulder and say “Excuse me. Do you have a friend just like you who could benefit for my business?” if they ask me and bring me into the conversation like “How can I get you more business?” I’ll certainly open up. But that whole ask for referrals, I’m just not a big fan of that. I think referrals have to happen naturally if they are going to be a powerful referral for you.

Matt: Yeah, I agree. We tend to use the same kind of – “Here’s a gift. If you’re interested and feel like it’s a good fit, you can give it to somebody who think maybe somebody that would be interested in working with us.” In that way, it lets them make the decision on what they gonna refer and be the good guy and that they are giving the gift to the person they’re referring. In our case right now, we’re doing a $100 Amazon Gift Card. So that way, somebody who’s got a good experience with us can give $100 to somebody else they know and say “Hey! Try this guy’s out. No harm, no foul if you don’t like it.” but you also give this extra thing. “Now I get to give you a $100 Amazon Gift Card” which is kinda a cool gift to get. It’s a different approach than saying “Hey! Send me the emails of people you know.” Which is much harder.

Vance: Yes. Also, it is not as valuable to me as a business owner to get a bunch of cold or lukewarm referrals. I want a pipe and hot referral that’s ready to buy. One of the strategies I use and I recommend it to everybody, all of my coaching clients, that you have a book. It doesn’t have to be a big book. It can be a self-published book. But that you have a book. What you can do with your book is you use that instead of your business card. Sales people have business cards or sales people have brochures. Experts have books. Part of our gift to our client, they get 2 of my books. I’ve written 3 on carpet cleaning. If I can write 3 books on carpet cleaning, your audience can write 1 book on whatever subject it is that they are doing. But I give them 2 books. One for themselves and one to give away to their friend or neighbor. “Oh my gosh! I got an extra book on oriental rugs. Let me pass that over to my neighbor because I know she’s been looking for somebody.” That’s how you can cultivate the referrals. But using the book strategy is huge.

Matt: I have a book too on bookkeeping.

Vance: Oh! Great!

Matt: Yeah. That’s very well to get people too. It provides a lot of value. If they are also interested in more, obviously it’s a great source of differentiator and credibility builder for us. Yeah, I agree with you a hundred percent. That’s a fantastic tool. On more topic I want to hit on here which is something is near and dear to my heart as well is how do you go about, obviously phenomenal service is one of the corner stones of building the business. But, what is your sort of direct marketing or outreach efforts like? What have you found that works for your business that maybe some of the other small business owners listening might want to give a try too? Because you know, Google Ad Word is expensive. It doesn’t work well for everybody, Facebook ads, twitter. It’s all kinds of ways to spend your marketing dollar. But in your experience, what are some of the things that have proven to be better return on investment than others?

Vance: Sure. Those last three words that you just said, return on investment, are things that I mandate. All of my marketing pieces I have to be able to measure the return. If I have a dollar out on marketing, I want to see that dollar come back preferably as $2, $3 or $10. A lot of folks – I use what’s called direct response marketing which is a style of marketing where you elicit some sort of response from the guest. It might not be an immediate sale. Or excuse me, from the prospect. It might not be an immediate sale but it might be a lead generation effort where “Opt in to this and get a free report.” “Call this 1-800 number and I’ll send my books for free.” Because I know it’s all lead generation. Every one of those things that I do, right now I have just did a presentation on this and I took a slide shot. I have 87 different marketing strategies and systems and processes running at this very moment. Eighty seven of them. This is for a carpet cleaning business. It’s a very complex way to go about it. it mixes pretty much everything that works. You asked me what works. It really just depends on who you market and who you’re looking for but one of the things that I think is often overlooked is direct mail because you control the message. You’re competing in a vacuum for people’s attention. If you’re doing Google Ad Words, there’s nothing worse than looking at a website and seeing the Facebook icon, the Google plus icon, or the twitter icon on the front page of anybody’s website. Because, you just spend a whole bunch of money, time and effort, directing them to your landing page, to your website and now you just gave them three opportunities to get off and go to Facebook. We know what happens when you go to Facebook. Half hour of your life would just disappear like that. This is a giant time suck. I always tell people “Get those little icon off. Even if everybody does it, get rid of those little icons that are on your website because all you’re doing is driving traffic somewhere else as oppose to keeping them on your site.” Direct mail is certainly number one whether it be a postcard. I use what’s called a Big Ass Post Card. Its 12 x 15 card. It’s the biggest post card you can send in the US Mail. Talk about an attention grabber. Then also, I still do some newspaper printing, newspaper ads, not as much as I used to. The ones that I do are still giving me a great return. The couple of the outreach things it is probably, in my business, it’s almost ten times more expensive to acquire a new client than it is to retain an old one. You have to do the math. You have to do the matrix on how often one of your clients make some purchase, what’s the lifetime value of one of your clients. But, on average I spend about $87 to get one new carpet cleaning client. That’s a lot of money especially when you look at a lot of national ads out there. Those guys out there that are $99 for 3 rooms. I’m like “If it cost them as much as it cost me to get a client, $87,$99 minus $87, that’s not a lot of money to invest in the vehicle, employees, wages, the solutions. But it only cost them $12 a year to keep that client. I spend about a dollar a month for every client that I have to keep them. I think, your client retention systems really need to be at the fore front. Yes, you need client acquisition. You always need to be getting new clients. But if you have a very robust client retention in place which is probably 20 of my 87 systems, that’s what’s keeping the wheel spinning. I’ve got repeat guests. Usually, right around 75% repeat with me year after year. That’s a huge number. Instead of spending $87 to get that job, I only had to spend $12. So it’s more money in my pocket.

Matt: Yeah. I think, virtually, every business being able to sell more and more often to existing customers is a better return on the effort than trying to acquire new customers. There’s not a lot of businesses that are strictly [inaudible 0:39:22.0] One and done and you never see them again. There are some but if you can continue to sell to customers who already know and like you, I think you tend to be a lot better off.
Vance: Yeah. Well, you almost send like my friend, Joe Polish. “No light can trust.” That’s people you want to sell to.

Matt: Yeah. It makes sense. He must be a smart guy.

Vance: Very smart guy!

Matt: Awesome! Well, I appreciate you taking the time today. For people who are interested in finding out more and getting more in depth with you and even checking out some of your books in carpet cleaning and I know you’ve got some non-carpet cleaning books as well. Where can they find you? Where do they get in touch?
Vance: Sure. The best thing is on our website which is deliverservicenow.com. on there, I have a free report called “Systematic Magic: How to Disneyfy any business” It is a 7-page quick read that you can start to implement a “wow!” You can start to get some Disney Style Systems implemented in your business right away. So it’s a very actionable guide once you download that. I also run a book camp down in business. I wrote about 6 of those years. If you’re looking for something intense and you want to spend 3 days with me on Walt Disney World, that information is on the website as well. But it’s a really cool 3-day expedition where we can really go behind the curtain to see how Disney does it.

Matt: Wow! That’s sounds pretty intense doing a Disney Style Training at Disney World!

Vance: Yup!

Matt: Awesome! Well, I appreciate you taking the time and sharing your experience and knowledge. Like I said earlier to you, I think we had an agreement on a lot of these things. I think these are not difficult things to do. It’s just a matter of investing the time and making the effort and you really can take a business from being average to being way above what the competition is doing, “wowing” your customers and having a lot of success. I appreciate you taking the time to share that experience and knowledge with us again.

Vance: Yeah! Great, Matt! I really appreciate you having me on. It was fun.

ET15- Write a Business Plan? Pros and Cons

Should You Write One? Yes and No, With An Explanation

plan writingIn this episode of Questions and Rants I run through the reasons old school style 30-40 page business plans are going away but why there are still certain things you should think about figuring out before you write your plan.

The exercise is not so much about the writing but there is a lot of value in the planning portion. Skipping this has more serious consequences fir any business, not just those hoping to raise money.

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Listen right here:

Transcript

Female Voice:                   Do I need to write a business plan?

Matt:                                     Do you need to write a business plan? That is the question where – if I just was forced to write an answer right now, a one word answer, yes or no, I would say no. Now, you hear a lot and talk about business plans and how to write them and what goes into them and there’s a lot of talking in business school about them. When I got an MBA, we had a whole class on business plans. I was actually in the business plan competition in my MBA Program. I won for the school. I did not win for the inter-school competition.

I actually started when I – the very first job I had on my own as an entrepreneur or business I had, I guess I should say, was writing business plans. That was back in 2001. There were still a lot of companies running around trying to raise venture capital. Writing is one of those things that freaks a lot of people out and they don’t feel like they have the skills to do it. And so, because my last job before becoming an entrepreneur was largely based on writing business plans for consulting company, the obvious move for me when that company fell apart was to go out on my own and offer my services as a business writer and I could charge less than they would have had to pay the consulting company and I could still make, for me, was a good income.

There was plenty of demand at least in the early days when there was still money available to be raised and one of the requirements for raising money was having the business plan. But the reality is for the vast majority of businesses that are not going to be raising money from outside investors; a business plan is not something that you have to do. As a result, most entrepreneurs skip it which is not entirely a good idea either. So, the short answer is for most businesses you probably don’t need to write a business plan or defining a business plan as one of those big 30 or 40 page documents with a lot of pie graphs and charts in it and a lot of wordy long paragraphs talking about SWAT Analysis and lots of market research and footnotes and all that kind of stuff that goes into it that takes 40 or 50 hours to write and is constantly revised and never seems to get read by anybody except the poor guy writing it and maybe the person who is the CEO and maybe sometimes that’s the same person.

Nobody else much gets passed the executive summary and even that now, a lot of people are doing that as a slide décor or a PowerPoint presentation. The days as a long winded multi-thousand word written business plan I think they are probably numbered. Now, that said, if you’re going into a business even if you’re not planning to raise money, there are definitely some things that you would’ve otherwise had to put in a business plan that is probably still worth spending some time thinking about.

The real value of writing a business plan was not all those words on the paper that nobody ever read. The real value in writing the business plan was being forced to sit down and think through the answers to the questions that are involved in writing the different sections of the business plan. That’s primarily talking about what product or service your business is gonna offer, who your customers are gonna be, who your competition is, how much its gonna cost to get out there, what risks and opportunities you’re facing, and all those kind of questions that really any business owner should be asking themselves not just people who are relying on investor money. Just because you’re gonna be burning your own money, it doesn’t mean you want to spend it foolishly.

What I would recommend if you are a business that’s going to be funded out of your pocket is to nevertheless take some time and I’m not talking about tens of hours even I’m talking about a couple of hours and you probably know the answer to what your business is going to be probably. Although, if you heard the term pivoting, many business think they’re gonna start out as one thing and ultimately switch to something else and sometimes either a 3rd or 4th iteration before they really figure out what they’re going to be when they grow up.

But, for a lot of businesses, it’s pretty straight forward in what they’re gonna be when they start, what they still are 10 to 15 years later. If you’re starting a house painting business or a law firm as an entrepreneur or an app for a phone, it’s probably that business that you started is gonna be the same business as it is for as long business lasts. The real questions that you want to stop and ask yourself are “Who are the customers for this business?” because you can have a great idea and you can imagine that a million people would want it but until you really stop and figure out who your customers are gonna be, you haven’t done the homework that you need to do in order to have a successful launch or as successful as possible to guarantee when you’re talking about doing a startup business which always has some inherent risks generally.

So, who are the customers gonna be? In the case, let’s say, it’s gonna be a house painting business. You could conceivably say “well, everybody is a customer.” But realistically, you know you probably only gonna want to drive within a certain radius from whatever you’re gonna locate the business. And out of those people, probably rentors are not gonna be willing to pay to have the house their living in painted because they don’t own the place. And then, you probably configure certain sections of towns where you gonna go a lot less business than other sections of town whether just isn’t the money, it is not economically feasible for them to do a lot of home improvement projects. Either they’re gonna do it themselves, or it’s just not gonna get done or they’re gonna pay the lowest possible bidder and that’s not the position that you want for your business.

Within the radius you’re willing to drive, there’s only certain neighborhoods where you are most likely able to find best customers. Now that you’ve narrowed it down that much, you might have a much better idea of who your customers are gonna be and then you’re gonna think about “Am I gonna do exterior painting and interior painting or just focus on one specific thing?” just focus on exterior or just focus on interior and what else you can do to kind of differentiate or narrow the focus of who your customers are gonna be.

The more specifically you know who your customers are gonna be, the less you can spend on marketing because you only have to spend to market to exactly the people who are gonna be a good fit for your business. There’s no point in blanketing the entire area with postcards or flyers or whatever if only a third of the people in the actual driving distance in the area you defined are gonna be good customers. You want to get it down in to the ZIP code or even sub ZIP code for your target mailing and then you might even decide to drive through the neighborhood and see how many houses are painted recently.

If the answer is hardly any, you may cut that section out. If the answer is quite a few, then you know now you’re in a neighborhood where people are willing to pay for the service you’re planning to offer and that’s probably a good market to target. Doing that research on who your customers are and narrowing it down until you have literally the best situation to be in is specifically have the name of the person that you want to be your customer or the names of the people that you want to be your customers because then you can address them directly.

“Bob, I can see that it’s been 5 years since your house has been painted. It’s starting to look like you could use it again. I’m in a house painting business. This is what we do. This is what we charge. This is what we can offer you. How would you like to get your house painted by us?” you can’t get a better pitch than that if you can directly address the actual customer that you want for your business.

The opposite of that is trying to sell it to the whole world, to offer it to anybody anonymously and randomly. In that case, some people might be a fit. But most people won’t and yet you’re addressing the entire world. So, take the time. You don’t have to write a business plan but take the time to figure out who your customers are as specifically as you can so you can address them as targeted as you can and has the lowest spend on marketing with the greatest return on your investment. By the same token, the better you know your customers; the better you’re gonna know what it is they want. Are they driven by price? Are they driven by speed or delivery? Are they driven by your band? Are they driven by certain other frustrations that they have, that they can’t seem to fill from other services or other offerings that are available in the market.

The better you know what they are looking for, the better you what they want to buy, more easily you can tailor your offering to their exact needs and that makes it a perfect fit when somebody says “hey! That’s exactly what I was I looking for.” Of course, they are more inclined to buy. If they say “Well, that is sort of it but not exactly.” Well, now they got hesitation. And if for whatever reason you’re not at all that they want, well obviously you’re gonna have a very tough time making any sales.

So, don’t have to write a business plan but really spend some time to know your customers. Here’s the other part of that. In a business plan, normally, you go through and evaluate all your competition. An entrepreneur sometimes – especially new entrepreneur – get thrown by this. For one thing, they don’t recognize that having competition is a good thing. If you get into a business where you cannot identify a single other provider of your product or service that is remotely similar to what you want, that’s not a great opportunity. Generally, that’s a red flag. It means there isn’t a market for what you’re trying to sell. Either you got something but now you’re gonna have to spend money and time educating people about what it is because they have no point of reference. They have nothing to compare it to. They weren’t shopping or looking for what you’re offering.

First, you’re gonna spend a lot of time that they need whatever it is that you’ve got. The other reason that could be a red flag if you can’t find anything similar to what you’ve got is that its already been tried. People put it out there and it hasn’t worked and that’s why you can’t find any similar competitors for what you are trying to offer. Maybe your idea is just too unique, too small to support a business or it’s not just something that even though it seems like a good idea, is feasible for some reasons or for several reasons that you aren’t aware of because you haven’t done enough homework or research on the issue but it’s out there and it’s a business killer. If you’re going into something where you cannot find a single likely competitor, that’s a big red flag.

Most likely though, most businesses, there is competition. In that case, what you want to do is identify is what there is about the competition that you can do better. Most of the time in most small businesses, the answer to that is easy. Its service. There’s a lot of house painters out there but a lot of times when you call them, they don’t call you back. They don’t call you back the next day or the day after that or they schedule to do a quote or they don’t show up for the quote or they reschedule. If you’re lucky, they call and reschedule. Or they show up late. Or they come and you ask them about painting the outside and they want to give you the hard-shell on doing the inside. Or you don’t like their price or you don’t like their attitude.

They don’t come across as competent. There’s a lot of ways you can win in service. And in otherwise what seems like a fairly commodity business without going for the lowest price. First of all, lowest price isn’t as attractive as everybody thinks. A lot of people are suspicious of the lowest prices. They are smart enough. They’ve been burned a few times buying the cheapest possible thing and now they are not impressed by somebody who just comes in and wants to talk about lowest price. Providing a good value is always beneficial but that doesn’t mean lowest price. That means lowest generally overall cost or best deal but not necessarily the lowest price. Figure out who the competition is. Figure out where they are deficient.

If it’s their service, if it’s the time it takes them, if it’s the way they deliver the product, if its most people complained that they didn’t get what they paid for or they were expecting something else, find out what those problems are and figure out if there’s a way you can crack your business around addressing those problems. With our business, our bookkeeping business, one of the biggest complaints that people have is that bookkeepers come and work for a while and they seem to drop off the face of the earth.

That’s because most of them are one person businesses. They don’t have enough client work to really pay the bills so when the job comes along, they take it and they leave their clients hanging. Or because they are one person business, when they go on vacation or they have taken time off to take care of sick relative or sick kid or whatever else, all the client work stops or sometimes all a sudden a big client will come along, too good to pass out, they take on the big client. And as a result, they’ll have a handful of other clients who now become a lower priority and suddenly they are not getting their stuff done anymore.

We overcame that. I overcame that in my bookkeeping business by planning at the very start to grow as quickly as I could and be able to bring on staff and have a system in place no matter what client it is and who’s working in the office, we could get a particular client’s work done. So if the person who normally works on it is out sick or on vacation or what have you, everything has been documented, the processes for that client, what they need, what we need to ask them, all that kind of stuff has been documented and so somebody else can simultaneously take over and still deliver great quality work in the same time frame that the client is expecting that we have promised to do it in. there’s no delay. There’s no drop off. There’s no “Sorry. We didn’t get your stuff last month done because we were busy or on vacation.”

Clients really appreciate that likewise we have great service and we always try to get to people the same day or if they call late in the afternoon then maybe the next morning. But less than 24 hours generally. In our industry, the standards more like a weaker tool, sometimes the people – after calling 2 or 3 times to get an answer – the follow up is poor. By having great service and being consistent with our delivery, right there we’d be 95% of our competition. Just doing those 2 things. When you are thinking about your business again, you don’t have to sit down and write out all the in a business plan but you do want to line them out who am I gonna be competing with? What are their strengths? What are their businesses?

How am I gonna make my business superior? Because the main question that you want to answer, and again that used to be answered in a long business plan, but now, as long as you know the answer and you’ve built it, you’ve kinda baked it to the essence of your business, the question is Why would any customer who’s considering something you’re offering or in the category that you’re offering in, why would they choose you over any of their other options? You should be able to easily and quickly articulate why that should happen.

That’s a conversation when you have it with a customer, you should be able to quickly and easily explain why you got a superior offering. Anybody outside of your business who just asked you “Hey! What do you do? What makes you guys different? You should be able to explain it. If you can’t explain it or there’s nothing that stands out or there’s nothing you have to offer that’s different than they can get from anywhere else, you haven’t done a very good job of planning your business and there’s no real guarantee that your business is gonna be successful because there’s no particular reason for somebody to choose you over anyone else.

If your only answer is “Well, we are couple of bucks cheaper.” Or “Were the closest option in town for whatever that is or for people to drive to or whatever.” You’re not gonna last for a long time because as soon as someone else comes along with better value or they match your price or they move in to your same area, you got nothing. You really want to stop and think about “what are we gonna do that’s gonna make us first in customers mind or when they’re comparing their options, they’re gonna pick us.

What’s what special thing or things that were gonna offer that’s gonna make us different?” that’s the main question that you’re getting to. You want to understand your customers. You want to understand your competition. You want to understand and craft a solid business offering. All are the things that would’ve normally been written down on a business plan. I’m saying don’t bother with long written winded business plan but do take the time to answer these questions and figure it out. Along with these goes a little bit of financial planning and budgeting.

Again, you don’t have to get fancy. You don’t have to do a whole balance sheet and profit loss for 3 years in projections but you do have to figure out how much is it gonna cost you to get to the point where you start making sales? How much is it gonna cost you to maintain your business in a regular basis in terms of how many sales have to come in to pay for your costs or at least to breakeven and how much do you have to set aside to get to that point? The better you know the answers to the questions we already gone over, the easier it’s gonna be to estimate your cost and make sure you have enough or else figure out a way to scale back to do it in a way that you’re gonna be able to achieve. I used to do a lot of consulting to restaurant owners.

A lot of people would call and say “I want to open the restaurant.” And we go over the fact that a restaurant to start can cost on a low end 30 or 40 thousand dollars if you got lucky or you have an existing space or you’re in a cheap place and you got a certain menu or whatever all the way up to several hundred thousand or more up. You can spend a million or more to open a restaurant. That’s out of reach for most people but that doesn’t mean you can’t start. There’s lot of other options.

You could literally start at a farmer’s market. Take what would be your signature dish for the restaurant and figure out how to do it in a way that you can deliver on a farmer’s market and take it there and see how it goes. If you got amazing receptions and people are begging you for a recipe and ask you when you’re gonna be able to open a restaurant, you know you’re on a right track. If you thought, grandma’s secret meatball recipe was gonna be a huge killer and you take it to the farmers market and you’re not doing any better than the other 5 other places at the farmers market. Nobody is out excited about it.

Nobody is asking you when you’re gonna open a restaurant. Well, you might have just saved yourself a whole ton of money. So, it’s not whether or not you can start the exact business that you are planning, if the funding does not allow for it, you can still get started with something and you can still do most of the basic figuring out that you would do with the full scale business but in the popular circle now it’s called launching with minimum viable product. In other words, the least expensive, least complicated version of the business you have in mind.

You put it out there as quickly and as inexpensively as you can while still offering a decent product and see what the reception is. Then, tweak it and build it and change it as you go until it’s dialed up to exactly what you wanted. In that way, you can get something launched with less with maybe you though t you would have to spend if you went on the full blown version right out of the gate. A lot of times, a full blown version right out of the gate isn’t gonna be what the business end up being anyway and by spending all your money upfront, you don’t have a second chance to fix it and change as you go.

Anyway, long story short is, you can skip the business plan in most cases. But, don’t skip the business planning. The business planning doesn’t have to take hours or weeks and months but it is something you should sit down and think through and investigate and make sure that at the end of the day you figure it out why customers would pick you out of all their other options for whatever business you’re getting into. If you have a good compelling reason why you gotta do that, then you are most of the way there of having a successful business. At that point, you just got to go ahead and launch.

Thanks for listening.

ET14- Picking a Franchise w/ The Franchise King

Joel Libava Knows Franchises- Before You Buy One, See Him!

ScreenShot011Actually, I’ll take that a step further and say not all franchises are good, period. People new to the business of business sometimes have the idea that a franchise is an automatic success and you can’t lose money investing in one.

That is absolutely not the case. While there are plenty of proven concepts that do a good job selecting owners who can be successful and supporting them until they are there are many more with less than stellar records whose franchisees end up largely on their own.

Figuring out how to get into a good franchise that will match your personality, experience and aptitude is the job of Joel Libava, known in the trade as the Franchise King.

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ET13- Using Technology to Scale a One to One Business

Taking Personal Training to The Next (Huge) Level With Jay Scott

ScreenShot010How do you stand out in an industry where you are one of over 279,000 people doing the same thing? Well, Jay Scott has figured it out for his business and I think he’s got a great approach. He is marrying technology with the personal training industry in his business called iScienceFit.com and so far he’s had great success!

The question to ask yourself, as Jay did, is what can I do differently to overcome the problems in my industry. For him, the challenge of doing in home personal training was trying to fit as many appointments into the day as possible while still accounting for traffic, people being late, people not showing and all kinds of other headaches.

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ET12- Making Money Helping Others Build Powerful Passive Income

Drew Burks and His Profit Sharing Sales Funnel Building Business

ScreenShot009There is a famous quote by sales guru Zig Ziglar that says:

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

That pretty well sums up how Drew Burks business works. His company JustFunnelIt.com works with other businesses who have great products to offer but no idea how to get those products out into the world via online marketing. Drew and his partners figure out how to make that happen and when they are successful, then and only then do they get a cut of the profits.

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ET11- Starting a Business Helping Others Get Started

Ryan James and The Genesis Of MyStartupUniversity

ScreenShot008 I had fun talking with Ryan James of MyStartupUniversity.com and StartupSavant.com because he’s one of those people with a genuine good nature and positive attitude.

Plus, he’s done some really cool stuff!

He started out with some other ideas for starting a business and along the way discovered what seemed to be a lack of resources for the new business owner just getting started.

So, like a good entrepreneur would, he started a side project to address that problem, which turned into a business of its own. I had a nice long chat with Ryan about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how to spot opportunities.

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