Thursday, March 12, 2009

How To Sell More During The Meltdown

Originally Posted 2.23.09

Geoffrey James offers a ten step process to boosting sales in a recession. “Chances are your competitor — the sales guy down the street,” writes James, “is obsessing about the economy when he should be out selling. So that means that you’ve just been handed an incredible opportunity to capture what business is still out there.”

Read more.

Recession Protection For Plumbers & HVAC Contractors

If you’re too small to merit part of the $820 billion corporate welfare slush fund, your future is up to you. Here’s my suggestion for recession protection.

If you run an HVAC or plumbing business and are not a member of the Service Roundtable, join today. Take a tour and spend time browsing the Download Center. There’s millions of dollars of material that will give you thousands of ways to grow and prosper. While designed for HVAC or Plumbing, the Service Roundtable will work for any in-home service business with modifications. Visit the Service Roundtable today.

Keep Your Team Inspired

Originally Posted 2.23.09

Renie Cavallari, CEO and Chief Inspiration Officer for Aspire, offers up a series of ways hotels can keep the staff motivated. Many of these will work for your company.

Read More

Tom Hopkins Was A Failure

Originally Posted 2.23.09

Most people know Tom Hopkins as one of the most successful salespeople and sales trainers of all time. But the first six months Tom sold real estate he failed miserably. In fact, he didn’t sell a thing. He didn’t sell a thing until he got some training. Before he got training, Tom didn’t know what he didn’t know. After training, Tom began closing sales.

If you work in the world of sales and are not prospering, maybe it's time for training. In fact, if you work in business and are not prospering, you should seek training. Find out how to prosper. Talk with those who are succeeding. I suspect you'll discover that successful people work harder on their games than anyone.

Most Small Business Owners Are Business Ignorant

Originally Posted 2.23.09

According to business professor, Diane Welsh from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 60% of the people who start businesses have never had a business course. In short, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Lifelong learning is a key trait of successful businesspeople. A tough economy is no time to wing it. Read blogs, listen to podcasts, attend training classes, and do anything and everything you can to boost your business acumen.


Free Marketing Ideas - Part V

Originally Posted 2.23.09

13. If You Are Drug Free, Promote It

Years ago, a contractor in Auburn, California told me he was randomly testing his employees for drugs. Being somewhat of a libertarian, I was horrified. He explained why and I was even more horrified.

One of his technicians developed a cocaine habit. The tech would case customers’ houses on service calls and return at night to rip them off. “Do you know what my liability would be?” asked the contractor.


“Neither do I, and I never want to find out.”

Flash forward a few years. When I worked in franchising, one of our franchisees lost track of a truck. This was pre-GPS. No one knew the vehicle location. The plumber didn’t answer the radio.

The highway patrol found him. He was sitting in his service van on a freeway shoulder, slumped over, dead from a heroine overdose. Fortunately, the plumber hadn’t hurt anyone besides himself.

In Philadelphia this week, a plumber was arrested after getting videotaped stealing pipes from suburban fast food restaurants. He was selling the pipes as scrap to pay for drugs.

Unfortunately drugs are a problem. And people know it.

According to the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 8% of full time workers use illicit drugs. Among full time employees, the construction trades witnessed the second highest amount of illicit drug abuse (15%) of any occupation. Less than one third of companies use random drug testing.


Drug test. Drug test to protect yourself. Drug test to protect your (clean) employees. Then, promote it.

Let your customers and potential employees know your company is drug free. Proclaim it on job applications and on your website.

It will attract the employees you want and dissuade those you do not from applying in the first place. It will also attract customers who want peace of mind about the individuals who are allowed inside their homes.

14. Insert A Business Card Into Every Returned DVD

When you rent a DVD, stick a business card into the box when returning it. The kid who opens the box to verify the DVD will probably toss it, but you never know. It’s only a business card!

Of course, it will be more effective if you have a coupon on the back of the business card for dollars off a service call.

15. Join A Leads Club

Leads clubs exist in every town. Some are affiliated with national organizations. Some are independent. Usually, the Chamber of Commerce knows about area leads clubs.

Leads clubs are focused networking groups. Non-competitive businesses meet for lunch or breakfast. The idea is to help each other with introductions and business opportunities.

Everyone in your club is a prospect. More important, everyone in your club is a community center of influence and source of quality referrals.

Leads clubs are different than service clubs. Service clubs exist to be of service to the community. The networking that occurs is a fringe benefit. In a leads club the networking is the purpose. As a result, the meetings tend to be focused and no-nonsense. Each member tries to help others gain business.

Contact your local chamber for more information on the leads clubs in your area.

16. Knock On Doors

Tom McCart was the first salesperson in the heating and air conditioning industry to sell $1 million of replacement products. He did it in a small, one season market, one system at a time, with many sales coming from leads generated by knocking on doors.

Knocking on doors? It sounds crazy. Yet, soon after Tom broke the million dollar ceiling, Pat McCormick sold $1 million worth of high efficiency air conditioners in mild Southern California. Pat generated ALL of his leads by knocking on doors.

Mention “knocking on doors” and the image of the pushy salesperson immediately comes to mind. And, a lot of door-to-door salespeople are pushy. The best are not. They don’t have to be pushy.

Think about Tom and Pat selling air conditioners. Air conditioners are replaced every 15 years on average (though they should be replaced a little more often than that). This means that 7% of the installed base of air conditioners needs replacement every year.

Knock on 15 doors and the odds suggest that one homeowner will own an air conditioner that needs replacement. Why hasn’t he replaced? It’s probably because he doesn’t know who to call and dreads the process of calling contractors, scheduling appointments, and listening to the pitch. He imagines the contractor salesperson to be dishonest and pushy.

So why will he buy from you? Because you are the opposite of the salesperson he fears. McCart used to knock on the door, smile, introduce himself, and declare that he was the neighborhood contractor and was letting people know that he had some special financing available for homeowners in the area. He just wanted to know if the homeowner had any interest.

Tom said the next part was key. “Shut up,” advised Tom.

Minneapolis contractor Gary Katz says that silence is the only pressure you ever need to apply. Tom McCart certainly used it to great effect.

Following the pregnant pause, the homeowner will do one of the following:

- He might dismiss you, declaring a lack of interest.

- He might ask for more information.

- He might invite you to take a look at his old air conditioner.

If he dismisses you, thank him for his time. Hand him a business card and give him permission to call you when he decides it’s time to replace.

Pat McCormick said knocking or doors will eventually result in a sale. It’s a numbers game. Pat would divide the commission by the number of doors he knocked on until he made a sale to come up with an average value of each door. On each rejection, he reminded himself of the value of that door.

If the homeowner asks for information, give it to him. If he asks for you to look at his air conditioner, do it. Chances are good that this is a homeowner who lacks a relationship with a contractor and knows it’s time to replace. You’re in the right place at the right time.

All marketing requires an investment of money or time. Knocking on doors costs nothing, but does take time. If you lack leads, knocking on doors beats the heck out of sitting around the shop. Give it a try.

© 2009 Matt Michel

Regional Roundtables In April

Contractors have been asking the Service Roundtable to host a regional road show for plumbing and HVAC contractors. Here's the schedule...

Dallas – April 2-3
Atlanta – April 8-9
Chicago – April 14-15
Philadelphia – April 21-22
Las Vegas – April 27-28

Start at 9AM
Three out of four contractors report business is slow; One out of four is having a banner year! How does that happen? Joe Cunningham will provide proven, innovative strategies to provide you with the management skills, tools and techniques to create a profit building system in your company that will dramatically increase your bottom line profits, increase productivity and facilitate company management. Joe’s done seminars with Service Roundtable before. We think he’s great, and the feedback from our members about Joe has been overwhelmingly positive.

Join your fellow Service Roundtable members, Service Roundtable staff, sponsors, and guest speaker for a couple hours of drinks, appetizers, and good conversation. Service Roundtable members are known for their innovations, and their willingness to share ideas and experiences. Bring questions and ideas. Meet, greet, and share.

Start at 9AM
A Very Brief Review from Service Roundtable

Exchange ideas about sales and marketing, management and operations, and finance, pricing, credit, and collections in breakout roundtables. Submit your biggest challenges in advance of the meeting. These will be presented to the group for troubleshooting. Remember, all of us together are smarter and more experienced than any of us separately.

Share an idea or a best practice you do exceptionally well. It could be promotional, a sales approach, an operational method, etc. Be prepared for a short 5 to 10 minute presentation and answer questions. Then we’ll vote for the best ideas. First place wins $125. Second place wins $50. Third place gets $25.

End at 3PM

Lunch, snacks, and the “social hour” will be provided as part of the seminar fee.

We can make the hotel reservations for you and request that you stay at the hotel we’re having the meeting at if you make the reservations on your own. You’ll get a free breakfast, free happy hour, and free airport shuttles. Also, we’ve negotiated a slightly better rate, so you will want to make sure you tell them you’re there for the Service Roundtable meeting.

$399 for one person. Each additional person from the same company is only $199 (saves $200!)

Contact Janet Thomasson toll free at 877.262.3341 or by email at Janet.Thomasson(at)

Brand Day - April 21-22

Brand Day is for heating and air conditioning contractors interested in selling their own line of branded equipment. The next Brand Day is April 21 – 22. Brand Day is informative and FREE. However, space is limited. Reserve your space today. Call Liz Patrick toll free at 877.262.3341.

The Difference Between Success And Failure

Originally Posted 2.23.09

Cartridge World is a hot new franchise. It’s got a great business format and the timing couldn’t be better. Cartridge World refills laser printer toner cartridges for half the cost of buying new ones.

We learned about the company from an article in a local, Lewisville, Texas paper. The closest Cartridge World was located in Denton, about 15 miles away. I’ll drive 15 miles to save a couple of hundred bucks.

On my first visit, I was impressed by a large business card carousel on the counter of the storefront. I asked an employee about it. She said that the owner built it and talked about it at the Chamber of Commerce. Since then, it seems that everyone from the Chamber has dropped by to drop off business cards. I bet all of them get their cartridges refilled at the store as well.

Unfortunately, the store didn’t have any Okidata cartridges in stock to swap, but they could refill the ones I had if I could leave them for a couple of hours. And they did.

I’ve been to the store several times. More than once, the owner was interviewing people. Apparently, he’s growing. I’m not surprised.

Cartridge World has a winning format, but the Denton store has more than the format going for it. It’s run by a creative, hard working entrepreneur who doesn’t wait for business to develop. He goes out and gets it.

I could see how he built awareness through public relations and the Chamber of Commerce. I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Friday, I had more cartridges that needed refilling. I pulled up Google maps to find the phone number of the store to see how late it was open and saw that Cartridge World now has a store three miles from my house. Well, three miles is better than 15, so I called.

I couldn’t understand a thing the guy who answered the phone said, but guess that I had the right number and asked how late the store was open. Six o’clock.

At 5:50 p.m., I pulled into the store. There were no other customers. The owner walked out (I know he was the owner because his nametag said so), took a look at the four cartridges, and said, “We don’t have Okidata.”

“That’s okay,” I replied. “You can just fill them and I’ll pick them up on Monday.”

“We don’t fill Okidata.”

“Uh, I don’t mean to argue with you, but I’ve gotten these filled two or three times at another Cartridge World.” The cartridges were in Cartridge World’s distinctive yellow and blue boxes after all.

“Where’d you get ‘em filled?”


“I’d advise you to take them there.”

Are you kidding me, I wanted to shout. Are you a moron? An idiot? Determined to go out of business as fast as possible?

Apparently so. I didn’t argue. I just shook my head and left.

These two businesses are franchised. They’re identical on the surface. Below the surface they’re as different as the two owners. One is aggressive, hard working, creative, and focused on building a business. The other is not. When he bought the franchise, he merely bought himself a job.

The Cartridge World format is good enough that the guy near my house may survive in spite of himself. Don’t be surprised if he fails. And if he does fails, he’ll probably blame the franchisor, not the guy in the mirror.

The difference between success and failure isn’t the business. It’s the business owner.

© 2009 Matt Michel

Ten Commandments of Business Worth Learning

By HARVEY MACKAY United Feature Syndicate
Published: 2/15/2009

This is a copyrighted story, so I’m going to give you a short excerpt and a link. Follow the link. It’s worth it.

Here’s the excerpt…

I. Thou shall not worry, for worry is the most unproductive of all human activities.

You can't saw sawdust. A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work. People get so busy worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, they forget about today. And today is what you have to work with.

II. Thou shall not be fearful, for most of the things we fear never come to pass.

Every crisis we face is multiplied when we act out of fear. Fear is a self-fulfilling emotion. When we fear something, we empower it. If we refuse to concede to our fear, there is nothing to fear.

Here’s the link.

The Movie, "Taken," Is In The Theaters

Originally Posted 2.23.09

How is it good news that a movie is out? If you have to ask, you haven’t seen the film. This movie is GREAT! It is non-stop, never catch your breath action. Plus, it doesn’t try to paint U.S. business or the CIA as evil and corrupt. There’s no underlying political message at all. Just watch it, escape for a couple of hours, and feel good.

Repair Work Booms

Originally Posted 2.23.09

One group that’s thrives in a tough economy is shoe cobblers. Jim McFarland in Lakeland, Florida says, “I haven't seen shoes like this in 25 years.”

People are repairing shoes, plumbing, furnaces, air conditioners, pools, etc. Ain’t service great!


Source 2

Source 3

Feeling Price Pressure? Pass It Upstream

Originally Posted 2.23.09

The Small Business Research Board surveyed 1,000 small business owners in *September* and found that one out of seven had taken advantage of the economy to renegotiate pricing and contracts. Many are negotiating long term contracts that will run well beyond the short term of the recession.

What’s possible? Sid Jaridly, a California kitchen remodeler got over half his vendors to give him a better deal, cutting his operating costs 15%.


We're A Nation Of Optimists

Originally Posted 2.23.09

My personal view is the economy should be turning and that any continued malaise is psychological. Unfortunately, the nation lacks a national cheerleader to counter the press and improve the national mood. Fortunately, Americans rarely remain pessimistic for long. Genetically, we’re a nation of optimists. It took optimists to leave family, friends, and the familiar to cross an ocean and stake a future in a new world. As their descendants, optimism is in our DNA.

Economic Fundamentals: Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy

Originally Posted 2.11.09

The following is excerpted from Kenneth Green’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on September 25, 2007. It’s a great explanation of Frederic Bastiat’s refutation that destruction of wealth leads to its creation. Green uses a variation to show how the creation of “green jobs” at the expense of other jobs is a fallacy.

The fallacious idea that one can make jobs by destroying others is a variation of Bastiat's Broken Window fallacy. As Bastiat explained, imagine some shopkeepers get their windows broken by a rock-throwing child. At first, people sympathize with the shopkeepers, until someone suggests that the broken windows really aren't that bad. After all, they ‘create work’ for the glazier, who might buy food, benefiting the grocer, or clothes, benefiting the tailor. If enough windows are broken, the glazier might even hire an assistant, creating a new job.

Did the child then do a public service by breaking the windows? Would it be good public policy to simply break windows at random? No, because what's not seen in this scenario is what the shopkeepers would have done with the money that they've had to use to fix their windows. If they hadn't needed to fix the windows, the shopkeepers would have put the money to work in their shops, buying more stock from their suppliers, or perhaps adding a coffee-bar, or hiring new stock-people.

Before the child's action, the shopkeepers had the economic value of their windows and the money to hire a new assistant or buy more goods. After the child's action, the shopkeepers have their new windows but no new assistant or new goods, and society, as a whole, has lost the value of the old set of windows.

The analogy holds just as well when it is the government that comes, and by regulatory fiat ‘breaks the window’ of a company successfully providing goods and services into a free market. When the government establishes a regulation favoring product A over product B, what is seen is the new sales of product A, and the jobs associated with such sales.

What is not seen is the lost sales of product B, and the lost jobs that go with it. Because the market is superior at efficiently identifying and providing what people want than are planners, it is virtually certain that the lost jobs in any regulatory scenario will outnumber the created jobs in a regulatory scenario.

Well said!

Staying Positive In A Negative World - The CD (Half Price)

One of the most highly acclaimed series in Comanche Marketing was “Staying Positive in a Negative World.” I made a CD of “Staying Positive” and while I can’t give it away, I would like to give you an opportunity to buy it for half price.

The CD retails for $19.95. Through April 14 – I’m stopping at April 14 because there’s nothing positive about April 15 – through April 14, you can get a copy for $10. That’s a deal. After production costs, handling, and mail, $10 is close to cost.

Note: If you’re out of work and money’s really tight (nothing to be ashamed of), let me know and I’ll just send you a free copy.

Three ways to order…

1. Call Janet Thomasson toll free at 877.262.3341 with a credit card.

2. Complete the form below and fax it to 817.796.2773.

3. Complete the form below and mail it with a check for $10, made out to the Service Roundtable, P.O. Box 270842, Flower Mound, TX 75027-0842.

Oh yeah, if you’re in Texas, I’ve got to charge an usurious sales tax of 8%, so Texans get to add 80 cents (at least you get a small break because we’re shipping from Lewisville – Flower Mound’s rate is even higher).

Service Roundtable members can access an expanded version of Staying Positive in MP3 format for free from the website.


Yes, I’d like a copy of the “Staying Positive in a Negative World” audio CD for the incredibly low price of $10 ($10.80 for Texas residents)

___Enclosed you will find my check or money order made out to the Service Roundtable

___Bill my credit card



___American Express

Card Number:


Exp. Date:


Name (as it appears on the card):


Billing Address:


City, State Zip:




Ship To (Name):


Shipping Address:


City, State Zip:


Phone Number:




Mail the completed form to:

Service Roundtable
P.O. Box 270842
Flower Mound, TX 75027-0842


Resumes That Rock

Originally Posted 2.11.09

Are you looking for work? If so, I’ve got a few suggestions. Let’s start with your resume. Most resumes stink. The worst are horrible. The best are boring.

As a hiring authority looking at your resume, it's got to jump. It’s got to stand out. It’s got to make me want to interview you. Does it?

I haven’t put together a resume in nearly 10 years, yet I bet my old resume beats your new one. Don’t worry, with a little work yours will easily beat mine.

To start, take a look at my old resume.

The last time I was in the middle of a job search, I got several calls from people who weren’t in a position to hire me, but liked my resume so much they called to complement me. One was the president of a manufacturing company who has a reputation for rarely complementing anyone on anything.


The first thing people comment on is the graphic. Few people include any type of visual support on a resume despite the fact we’re visual people. Come on! We’ve got computers today. We aren’t limited by our IBM Selectrics.

If you want, select a graphic that reinforces the benefits of hiring you. I selected the upward moving sales chart because that’s been my track record.

The selection of a graphic should be done carefully. Most of the resumes I’ve seen that include a graphic, include a goofy one. That works against you, not for you.

Show a version with a graphic and one without a graphic to family and friends. Ask which gets their attention and which attracts them. If in doubt, leave it off.


Testimonials are powerful. They are third party endorsements. Including them in your resume along the left hand column will make you stand out.

When you look at my resume, the most compelling reasons to call me for an interview were given by the people providing testimonials.

Soliciting Testimonials

The best part about the testimonials is that the process of soliciting them results in great networking. The last time I conducted a job search, I never even completed collecting my testimonials. When I asked Jerry Thomas at Decision Analyst for a testimonial, he offered me a job.

Here are the steps:

1. Make a list of everyone who has worked with you and who might say something nice about you. This list includes former bosses, co-workers, subordinates, vendors, customers, and teachers.

2. Call each. Tell each person that you are in the midst of a job search and would like to send him a copy of your resume and some other material. Tell him the type of position you are seeking. Remind him about your shared experience. Ask if he wouldn’t mind writing a sentence or two about you and suggest some places you might look for work. Always give people an out. Say, “It’s okay to say no.” Few will.

3. Prepare a testimonial form. The testimonial form opens with a paragraph like the following…

“Because people respect your opinion, I wonder if you might not offer a few words about me that I can share with potential employers. I might have to edit your comments for space reasons, but I promise not to change the words or meaning.”

Leave three or four lines for a response. Below the lines include a check box followed by the statement, “You have my permission to use me as a reference.”

4. Prepare a referral form. State, “Knowing me, knowing what kind of job I’m seeking, and how I perform, I wonder if you might know anyone interested in hiring someone like me. Would you mind listing a couple of possibilities below?”

Below the paragraph, include lines for two individuals’ names, positions, companies, addresses, phone numbers, faxes, and email addresses. Then, include a check box by each under the heading, “You have permission to use my name to contact this person.”

The next paragraph is for broader searching. “Please list anyone you know who may not be interested in hiring me, but who might know someone who would be interested.”

Collect the same information, but for five individuals, not two.

5. Send a cover letter, your resume, testimonial form, and referral form to everyone you called. When you do this, networking magic happens. People will open all kinds of doors for you.

You also learn who makes a good referral and who not to mention. If someone refuses permission or will not write a testimonial, don’t list him as a referral.

When Dave Laurenz hired me at Titus, he commented, “You select your references well.”

He was right. I did. So should you.

Philosophy Resume

When I first tried the testimonial resume, I didn’t have any testimonials. While I was collecting them, I needed something for the big empty column to balance the resume visually. I wrote out my business philosophy. I called it, “What I believe…”

It gave me a unique resume to send to people while I was waiting for the testimonials to arrive.


I would prepare several different versions of my resume depending on what type of job I was seeking or industry I would operate in. The changes were slight differences in what part of my career I emphasized and in the testimonials selected. As a result, my resumes always appeared to be better matches to the companies I would target than generic resumes.


Note that my resume stresses facts and figures. I give a very short description of duties and responsibilities, but quickly shift to accomplishments. It wasn’t everything I did with each company, but it was enough to show I got results. Moreover, the facts and figures made the performance believable.

Action Words

Note how the bullet points stress action words…

-Consistently maintained

Action words convey energy and accomplishment.


The conventional wisdom says resumes should be one page in length and never longer than two pages. Horse hockey!

My last resume ran on for three pages. For a nearly 20 year career at the time I wrote it, I felt three pages were justified. Today, I would probably use four pages. Earlier in my career I used two. Starting out, I used one page.

Long copy sells. If you’ve got interesting and relevant information that a hiring authority might like to know, include it.

If you use bullets and headings, length isn’t as important. People in a hurry can quickly scan it.

Command of the Written Word

I continually find it amazing how many people send out resumes with misspelled words, incoherent sentence structure, poor grammar, missing punctuation, and generally sloppy presentation. Your resume is the first tangible clue about your ability I will see. If it’s poorly done, it will be the last one I will see.

The Right Job Waits

Someone out there has the ideal job for you. The manager may not have even started the search. Personnel may not know about it, so don’t send your resume to personnel. Target hiring authorities.

Hiring is a pain in the butt. Except for a few search consultants, I don’t know anyone who enjoys the hiring process from the company’s side. If your resume hits the right desk at the right time, you can eliminate the need for the manager to suffer through the process.

As a grunt engineer at the Turbo Refrigerating Company, I used a trade magazine’s directory to send my resume to the vice presidents of manufacturing of companies within a 30 mile radius. If no one was listed, I simply mailed to the company president or general manager.

I mailed a resume to John Norris, the CEO of Lennox. To get it off his desk, John penciled “To Dennis Blanchard” on the corner.

Dennis was the newly hired vice president of manufacturing. As it happened, he was getting ready to start a search for an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Engineer to oversee and promote factory automation efforts at Lennox’ factories. My resume arrived on his desk, sent down by the CEO. Dennis assumed John wanted him to interview me for the position.

Dennis instructs Dave Napoli, who would be my boss, to call me in for an interview. In a follow up phone call Dennis tosses out an objection. He says, “My problem is this position calls for someone with 10 years of experience.”

I had two. I never would have been considered if my resume hadn’t drifted down from the CEO’s desk.

Being brash and cocky, I told Dennis, “You’re going to have a tough time finding someone with 10 years in robotics and computer-aided manufacturing. The technology’s not that old. Look, my experience is a perfect match for the job, plus I’m only two years out of one of the top robotics and computer-aided manufacturing programs in the country. Would you rather have someone with my experience or someone with one year of experience repeated 10 times?”

To my surprise, Lennox hired me. My salary at Turbo was so far under the minimum pay for the job that the offer was nearly 50% more than I was making and I needed two 10% raises over the next six months to get my income in line with the bottom of the job classification.

By sending my resume direct to a hiring authority, I slipped around the human resources department and was considered without competition before the job was advertised. Once the job was advertised, HR would have automatically flushed me as too inexperienced. If I somehow got past HR, I doubt my two years would have stood out against a crowded field.

Was I lucky? Sure. But I found my luck. It didn’t find you. If you’re in the midst of a job search, you can find your luck as well.

© 2009 Matt Michel

Free Stuff: Lee Rosenberg's 100 Simple Business Practices

Often there is little difference between a successful business and an unsuccessful one. Rather, there are little differences... lots of little differences.

Lee Rosenberg presents 100 simple business practices that every service business should perform. Undoubtedly you already do many of these practices, but you probably do not do all of them. This document will serve as a reminder of many things you should do, but may not. It will also give you a few new ideas, things that you hadn't really thought about. Add one or two new disciplines from this document and your business will improve and/or avoid the fatal pitfalls of companies long forgotten.


Don't Die Like The Dinosaurs

If you aren’t on the Internet, you might as well be T-Rex, once ferocious, and now fossilized. You’re obsolete. Yet, for just $20, HVAC and plumbing contractors can get starter websites with their company web address and professional email addresses (i.e., instead of Ask about them at the Service Roundtable.

10 Things To Remember When Marketing In A Recession

Originally Posted 2.11.09

An Advertising Week article offers some timely marketing reminders, including the need to step up advertising. Companies that cut ad spending in a downturn saw business drop 20% to 30% over the next two years. Gulp.

Read more.

Free Marketing Ideas - Part IV

Originally Published 2.11.09

9. Load Up On Testimonials.

Testimonials are powerful. Expert testimonials are even stronger. They reassure uncertain consumers who lack the technical ability to judge the quality of your work.

For most companies the problem isn’t getting testimonials, it’s *capturing* them. After a service call, a grateful homeowner complements your plumber or technician. There’s the testimonial. Too bad it’s lost.

At a home show, your customer stops by your booth and tells you how wonderful your company is. It’s great to hear, but unless you capture it, it’s lost.

Now, a new product from Dan and Dave Squires makes it easy to capture testimonials. The product is called Voice Q. Essentially, Voice Q is a telephone comment line that digitizes the comments and instantly emails you a wav file with the customer’s message.

Ironically, the Squires brothers developed Voice Q as a means of improving field efficiency, not increasing testimonials. Dan saw it as a way to eliminate wait time when technicians call in to debrief after a service call. The techs didn’t like waiting on hold while the call taker or dispatcher was on another line. The call takers didn’t like having to drop everything to debrief a technician.

Each tech has a separate line, which is identified by the tech’s phone number and the date and time stamp. Separate lines cost a little more, but search and sort makes it worth the cost. An additional line is available for parts orders.

Voice Q helps improve field efficiency. The office staff will love it. Yet, it works even better as a testimonial catcher.

With Voice Q, the technician can ask the homeowner who gives the complement to call the message line and repeat the message. In fact, he can whip out his mobile phone, dial the message line and ask the homeowner to repeat the message on the spot. In all likelihood the message will be even better if the technician is standing there while the homeowner gushes.

The catch, of course, is the field service personnel. They must be given an incentive to collect the testimonials. Plus, the need to collect them should be reinforced every week until it becomes a habit.

Dave used Voice Q recently to capture testimonials during a trade show from his contractor customers. Click here to hear how clear these sound, despite being recorded in a busy show with background noise.

Get expert testimonials by asking your peers in other towns to provide expert testimony about your quality and craftsmanship.

Take the customer and peer testimonials and transcribe them or place them on your website for people to click and listen. Even better, incorporate them into your on hold message so that prospects hear your customers rave about you (if they must be placed on hold).

Voice Q isn’t free, but it is affordable. It only costs $3/month for a line ($5 for separate debrief and parts lines). Check it out at

Help me test it by calling the new Service Roundtable and Comanche Marketing comment line at 810.320.3118. Leave me a message about the Service Roundtable, Comanche Marketing, your best clean joke, whatever.

You don’t need Voice Q to collect testimonials. It just makes things easier. When you learn from your field service people that a customer paid a complement, you can call or email the customer and ask if he or she wouldn’t mind repeating it in an email you can quote.

At a home show, you can hand the complementary customer a business card and ask the customer to send you a quick email with the same message. Some will and you lose nothing by trying.

Expert testimonials are easier. Simply email your peers in different markets. Start by offering each peer a testimonial of your own. Be sure to tell everyone you contact that it’s okay to say no.

10. Give Creative Titles

Let’s say you are starting a new career. You just got your first job. You can’t wait to tell your mother.

“Hey Mom, I just got a job!”

“Why that’s wonderful. I can’t wait to tell the ladies in the bridge club. What’s you title? I know it will take a few weeks before you’re named vice president, but I’m sure you’re important.”

You puff up your chest, stick out your chin, and proudly proclaim, “I’m a ‘Helper.’”

What a proud day for your mother!

Titles are cheap. At different points in your life, they matter to people or to customers. Let people have creative titles if it will help them feel better about themselves or better represent themselves.

Instead of “Helper,” call the kid an “Assistant Installation Technician.” Give him a title he can brag about with mom and more important, with his girlfriend. And give him a business card. Give him a real business card with his name and title, not a blank line for the kid to write his name in.

At Turbo, I had an intern working with me during the summer. I ordered business cards for him and gave him the title of “Student Engineer.” There was no obvious reason for him to have business cards. He didn’t meet with customers and was unlikely to run into any. His main use of the business cards was to hand them to girls in bars.

You probably think giving him business cards was a waste. Maybe it was. Yet, the business cards were cheap and the title was free. A couple of years after he graduated, he returned to Turbo as a full-fledged mechanical engineer. Did the good feelings and identification he felt with the company while a “Student Engineer” have anything to do with the return? Absolutely. And the cards and title reinforced both.

When I worked at Decision Analyst I used to joke, “What do you call a salesperson at Decision Analyst?” “Vice President.”

In truth it wasn’t a joke, it was a business strategy. While I did my share of true research, business analysis, and consulting at Decision Analyst, I was fundamentally a high level salesperson. Before I could perform an engagement, I had to win one. I had to sell. Since I called on corporate CEOs and Vice Presidents, I had an easier time when I was a Vice President.

Taking it the other direction, the late Tom McCart gave himself the title of “Assistant Buyer” when he was selling for Ron Smith at Modern Air. It was an ice breaker. Tom would hand prospects a card at the start of a sales call. When a confused prospect commented on the title Tom would answer, “Well, I’m here to help you buy the best comfort system for your home.”

Do you have an employee who wants a more prestigious title? What about a more creative one? Will a title help your employee feel better about his job? Will it help him sell more? Don’t be stingy with the free stuff. Make your better salespeople vice presidents if that will help them sell more.

11. Have Employees Park Their Trucks At The End Of Their Driveways, Perpendicular To Traffic

This runs counter to conventional wisdom. Park your vehicle in the driveway of the customer’s home so the billboard is perpendicular to traffic and to every other home up and down the street.

Do you see any billboards placed parallel to the highway? Of course not. They are all perpendicular. If you decaled the truck for the advertising impact, turn it perpendicular to traffic, not parallel.

I hear the gasping now. You say the homeowner will be mad. Okay. Get permission.

“Mrs. Homeowner, I parked on your driveway to get the truck out of the way of traffic. I don’t want it obstructing a driver’s view if a kid is riding her bike down the street. Is it okay where it is, or should I move it to the street.

The homeowner will either say it’s okay where it is, giving you permission, or say she prefers it in the street, which means you move it. What’s the problem?

But what about oil leaks, you say. Personally, I’m not happy about oil leaks in front of my house. Once, a couple of plumbers showed up at my house driving the Exxon Valdez installation truck. It was big as a supertanker and left an oil slick everywhere it went. The only reason I didn’t complain after they left and I saw the oil slick was fear that they might return.

If you vehicle leaks oil, there’s a simple solution. GET IT FIXED! Even if you’re too afraid to try parking on the customer’s driveway and asking permission, GET THE OIL LEAK FIXED!

Service trucks are the primary advertising medium for most contractors. Park so more people can see them.

12. Hit The Service Club Rubber Chicken Circuit

Local service clubs (i.e., Rotary, Lion’s, Kiwanis, and Optimists) feature weekly speakers. These clubs are always on the lookout for speakers who can address relevant issues affecting the community and club members. That’s you.

When you speak to a service club, you speak to a room full of community leaders. These are connected people whom others turn to for advice and recommendations. If there’s any group you want to influence, it’s a group of influencers. If there’s any group you want to connect with, it’s a group of connected people.

Search the Internet to find the clubs in your area and contact the club president. Tell the president that you’re trying to spread the word in the community about electrical fires, refrigerant phase outs, ways to save water, practical solar technologies, and so on. Describe the topic and offer to speak on it when the club has an opening.

You will get approximately 15 minutes. Don’t use all of it. Be sure to leave time for questions and answers.

While this is an informational talk and not a sales pitch, it’s inherently promotional. When more people learn about your business, more business opportunities will come your way.

© 2009 Matt Michel

New Products/New Marketings

Originally Published 2.11.09

Even the best companies suffer from customer attrition. In good times or bad, everyone who did business with you last year, will not do business with you this year.

Some customers move. Some die. Some switch to a competitor (the jerks!). Some skip annual maintenance and only call when something is broken or needs replacement. No one gets their business.

Unless your repeat customers increase their spending enough to overcome the losses from natural attrition, you’ll have to replace part of last year’s customer base just to stay even. But how?

One of the oldest marketing planning tools is the new products and services/new markets grid. Start by estimating how much business you can expect from your existing products and services and from your existing markets without making changes. Is it enough? Can you gain more business from the market by taking share from competitors? Can you take enough share to grow?

If not, consider new products/services, new markets, or both. A service company with a solid, strong customer base might add new products and services to its portfolio and offer them to existing customers. Some examples…

A pool builder who previously ignored service and maintenance opportunities, adds them.

An HVAC contractor adds electrical service.

A plumbing contractor adds in-ground sprinkler system installation and maintenance.

An electrical contractor offers security system monitoring.

The advantage of adding new products and services to your existing customer base is the customers already know and trust you.

What if your customer base is relatively new, small, or is in decline? Consider new markets for existing products and services. Some examples…

A service company opens a satellite operation in the next town, using a local number that’s answered in the main office to keep overhead low.

An electrical contractor who focuses on residential new construction moves into the residential service market.

And of course, companies can begin offering new products and services both within existing markets and to new markets. Most service companies are small enough that adding a market and/or adding new products and services is sufficient to ensure growth, if the opportunities are pursued.

© 2009 Matt Michel

How You Look At Things

Originally Published 2.11.09

Last week my Rotary Club featured a teacher as speaker. She works with students the schools call “developmentally disabled.” She doesn’t consider them disabled, but different-abled.

Her students think outside the box. Ask most kids, “What’s the difference between 8 and 5?” They answer 3.

Her students will say one is odd and other is even. Or they’ll note that one is symmetrical and the other is not. All are good answers, just not the expected ones.

In her talk, she relayed a story told to her by Zig Ziglar. It’s appropriate for today’s news…

We’re Rich!

A hundred years ago, two brothers read about the riches that could be earned from trapping wolves and headed west to seek their fortune. The brothers learned to track and set out to hunt the elusive predators.

Alas, no wolves were to be found. After months of searching, the brothers concluded the area was hunted out. They decided to break camp the next morning and try a new location.

During the night, one brother woke to the sound of a wolf’s howl. He stepped outside of his tent and could see that the camp was surrounded by a large pack of 50 angry wolves, at the edge of the campfire’s light, ferociously bearing their teeth, snarling.

Not wanting to make any sudden moves or sounds, the first brother softly called the second.

The second brother emerged from the tent, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He blinked once or twice as he looked at the pack of ravenous wolves, then leaped into the air, pumped his fist, and shouted, “We’re rich!”

A Sales Trainer Speaks Out On The Economy

Originally Published 2.11.09

Jim Hinshaw is one of the country’s top air conditioning sales trainers (and a Service Roundtable Consult & Coach Partner). Recently, he posted on the Service Roundtable about his experience with a group of Detroit contractors. In the most depressed part of the country, repairs, remodels, and replacements are all up for aggressive contracting companies. Here’s Jim…

I just finished a dealer meeting in Detroit, one of the most economically depressed areas in the nation. I

asked 30 dealers how their business was. I was shocked and pleased when most (almost all!) told me they were having a great year, up from last year. Now, they were quick to tell me they had changed their business formula in the last year, doing some things differently. But they were succeeding, and selling in a tough economy.

We had a speaker share some numbers with the group. He quoted Senator John McCain “the fundamentals of the economy are sound.”

I’m not going political here, stick with me.

He said the market in that part of the country is down, but down in the new construction market, not in remodel/replacement. That part of the economy is still there. OK, some of those dollars may have moved to repair, but as testimony after testimony proved, if you have a sales process and good interview skills, people are still buying. Allergies and asthma don’t know about unemployment, they are with us year round regardless.

So keep on keeping on, share those success stories, the best contractors love to hear and share them, the ones who are not engaged will not listen anyway.

Jim Hinshaw
Sales Improvement Professionals, Inc.
1281 E. Magnolia, #D-145, Fort Collins, Co. 80524

Ph: 970-635-5675
Fax: 970-635-5676
Cell: 602-369-8097

Columnist for:

Air Conditioning Today, Dallas, TX
Wisconsin Perspective
Florida Plumbing Perspective

Big Companies Are Hiring

According to “Fortune” Magazine a lot of big companies are hiring. Don’t tell Katie Couric or Charlie Gibson. It would ruin the story line. Here are 20…

Edward Jones: 1,040 job openings

Google: 350 job openings

Wegmans Food Markets: 2,000 job openings

Cisco Systems: 500 job openings

Genentech: 585 job openings

Methodist Hospital System: 400 job openings

Whole Foods Market: 800 job openings

Microsoft: Announced it will cut up to 5,000, but is also adding “thousands” of jobs. Microsoft “is still looking for software design engineers, financial analysts, human resources, administrative and marketing and sales talent, particularly in online ad sales.”

Burns & McDonnell: 400 job openings

Ernst & Young: 2,800 job openings

Booz Allen Hamilton: 1,046 job openings

KPMG: “Thousands” of job openings

PricewaterhouseCoopers: 500 job openings

Scripps Health: 442 job openings

Mayo Clinic: 1,000 job openings

Baptist Health South Florida: 728 job openings

Bright Horizons: 387 job openings

Publix Super Markets: 900+ job openings

T-Mobile: 2,163 job openings

Accenture: “Thousands” of job openings


Surround Yourself With Happy People To Increase The Odds You'll Be Happy

Originally Published 2.11.09

The Framingham Heart Study keeps yielding good stuff. The latest checked to see how much people’s state of happiness is determined by those who surround them. The answer? A lot. If a happy friend lives within a mile an individual is 25% more like to be happy than otherwise.

The researchers concluded, “People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon.”

This is definitive proof that you’ll be happier if you avoid politicians and the news media.


Economic Fundamentals: Francisco's "Money" Speech From "Atlas Shrugged"

Originally Published 1.07.09

In Ayn Rand’s seminal book, “Atlas Shrugged,” the character Francisco d'Aconia is at a wedding reception and overhears another say that “money is the root of all evil.” Francisco launches into a soliloquy about money that should be required reading in schools today.

This will sound very familiar to the people who are disciples of Frank Blau. I’ve heard Frank express similar sentiments on many occasions, though Frank clearly has his own unique way of expressing himself.

If you have yet to read “Atlas Shrugged,” this is the perfect time to pick up a copy. Rand published the book in 1957, yet it is incredibly apt for our current time.

Click to read the speech.

Free Marketing Ideas - Part III

Originally Published 1.07.09

6. Develop An Electronic Sales Presentation

In many ways selling is teaching. Part of the sales professional’s role is to help prospects understand the different options available to them and how these might meet their needs.

Good salespeople try to uncover the needs and desires of a prospect. But sometimes this can prove difficult since prospects may not be able to articulate what they want or even know what they want. When you teach a prospect about a product or service, you open up new possibilities for consideration.

For example, you probably have a number of products you cannot live without today, but that you could not envision yesterday. Could you survive without an MP3 player or iPod? No? How about your LCD or plasma TV? Your Wii? GPS? Your mobile phone? Bluetooth? Broadband Internet access?

It doesn’t have to be high tech. My wife bought me a handheld lime juicer. Before I saw it I never knew I needed one and now I can’t live without it.

You might be wondering what the heck a handheld lime juicer is. It consists of a pair of hinged cups with handles. One cup fits inside the other to squeeze half of a lemon or lime. I can see it clearly in my mind, but I bet you can’t.

This is the problem. Some concepts are simply hard to convey with words. I could probably give a detailed explanation of the juicer that would give you a better idea what I’m talking about, but you would tune out long before I could do it. It’s far better, clearer, and faster to show you a picture.

Click here to see a picture of a juicer.

If it’s difficult to grasp the concept of a juicer without the picture, imagine how difficult it is for your prospects to understand what you are describing.

According to Prentice Hall eTeach, 65% of the population consists of visual learners. Two out of three people need to see things. If it’s an unfamiliar concept, it’s worse.

What do you think happens when your verbal description is inadequate? Some prospects will ask for clarification. Most will politely nod and wait for you to finish, but won’t buy.

It’s hard for consumers to envision an air conditioning zoning system, a tankless water heater, a solar pool heater, and any one of a million mundane products if they’ve never seen one. Pictures are worth a thousand words and showing prospects pictures of before and after kitchen remodels, installed power vents, pool fountains, the effectiveness of air cleaners on microscopic particles and dust, and so on helps them consider possibilities they had not imagined. And once imagined, some prospects will decide they must have them. Your sales increase.

It should seem obvious that you can increase your effectiveness by incorporating visual aids into your sales presentations. Use literature, photographs, and samples (the easiest way). Or, use electronic presentation software (the most flexible).

Despite their flexibility, a lot of sales managers and sales trainers frown on electronic presentations. They are afraid that the salesperson will use the presentation like a crutch, that it will take away from the sale, and that it will turn off and bore customers.

Frankly, that’s old school thinking. A good salesperson uses technology as a tool. As a tool, it doesn’t turn off customers or get in the way of the dialogue. It enhances the presentation. Proficiency comes with practice and once someone is proficient with a laptop, its use is no more awkward than a tape rule.

A laptop offers a wealth of visual aids. With sound it can also be an auditory aid. For example, sound is logarithmic like an earthquake Richter Scale. An increase of 0.3 bels doubles the sound level. It’s one thing to say it. It’s quite another to play the sound of one fan, followed by the sound of another 0.3 bels higher. Don’t you think a prospect is more likely to pay a premium for a quieter product after the sound difference has been demonstrated?

If you already have a laptop, it costs nothing to build an electronic sales presentation. If you need a laptop, I’ve got good news. Asus has an ultra portable laptop for less than $400. It’s limited in its memory, hard drive capacity, and display size, but good enough to help convey basic ideas. It comes with Open Office, which is a free open source counter to Microsoft Office.

Read Cnet’s review of the Asus.

I think the best solution for salespeople is one of the tablet laptops. Unfortunately, these are among the most expensive laptops. I had one of the early ones for a few weeks. The functionality was great, but the laptop left something to be desired. I bet the bugs have been worked out now.

For field service personnel who find themselves in sales situations or simply must give explanations to customers, a laptop may not be practical. Yet, the need for visual aids remains. In fact, it may be more important since service personnel are not usually as glib as salespeople.

The answer for service personnel is to use literature and pictures. Rather than ask a homeowner to climb into an attic to look at a rusted drain pan or try to explain it, take a digital picture and show it to the homeowner. Pocket digital cameras are priced so that anyone can own one. A camera should be an essential part of a plumber or technician’s toolbox. Like other personal tools, the employee should be obligated to supply a digital camera.

If your personnel lack a camera, buy cameras for them. Let them pay for the cameras over time through a payroll deduction.

Remember, without visual aids, two thirds of your prospects and customers have trouble following your explanation.

7. Enter Every Contest

Hobaica Refrigeration is the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s National Residential Contractor of the Year. I asked Paul Hobaica how they won it.

“We entered,” he said.

Now, there was a lot more to it than that. First, Hobaica is an outstanding company. It took years of sweat and toil to build up the company.

Still there’s a lot of truth to Paul’s statement. Before a contest can be won, it must be entered.

While some contests and awards have lots of entrants, I wonder about others. I suspect that few companies enter many competitions, though no one on the outside knows and people are still impressed when you win.

Win an award and stand out for life. In 9th grade I won a Columbia Journalism Award. I don’t know what the award was and didn’t know I entered it (a teacher entered me), but from that day forward, for the rest of my life I will legitimately be “an award winning writer.” Cool, huh?

Once you win an award, your company is hereafter and forever more, “an award winning company.” It becomes part of your marketing. It’s a point of differentiation. It represents third party reassurance to prospects. It makes you a more attractive employer.

Of course, it all starts with the entry form. Well, it all starts with the search for entry forms. Talk to the people with your local Chamber of Commerce. Call the business editor of your local paper. Contact trade press editors. Search the Internet to find possible contests. Then enter them.

What do you have to lose? Who knows? You might find yourself an award winner!

8. Get Newcomers Lists From Town Hall

Did you ever wonder how the Welcome Wagon finds new homeowners to welcome? I discovered that the list is provided by the city, for free!

Newcomers lists are typically available each month. Some towns will mail them. Others require you to stop by city hall.

I’ve had contractors tell me they’re too busy to pick up newcomers lists and have too many communities in their service territory. Good for them.

I hope you’re too busy too. If you’re not, and if you’re looking for business, newcomers lists represent lists of new homeowners who typically lack loyalty or allegiance to any of your competitors. They’re good prospects.

If you have too many communities in your service territory, it’s probably an indication that your territory is too large. But you say you can’t afford to turn away any calls.

Okay, don’t. But don’t market to the entire world. Focus your marketing to the immediate vicinity of your shop, starting with newcomers.

What do you market to newcomers? Send them a gift certificate with your company. Add them to your newsletter mailing list. Offer a free inspection. Start the dialogue so that the new homeowners start to think of you as “their” plumber/air conditioning company/pool company/carpet cleaner/fill-in-the-blank service and repair company.

That’s it for now. More next time.

© 2009 Matt Michel

What Would Uncle Frank Think?

Originally Posted 1.7.09

Believe it or not, this is the best time you’ll have to buy a car or truck for years to come. The rebates offered by the automakers are incredibly lucrative. In fact, they’re insane.

According to the general manager of a local Ford dealership I know, only a fool would buy a vehicle under a fleet program today. Rebates and incentives are far more lucrative. Sure, it sounds nice to hear that some fleet program will save you $5,000 off the sticker, but the incentives are better. One manufacturer, for example, is offering $10,000 in rebates for every with a diesel engine. Why pay more for the fleet program?

Normally, the automakers use rebates to clear dealer inventories, taking a financial hit, and then recovering some of it when they load the dealers the following months. Not this time.

The automakers are following a pattern that seems to repeat every ten years or so. “Business Week’s” auto industry analyst Ed Wallace recently noted that, “I've seen this before, in 1974, 1980-81, and in 1992, when Detroit automakers found their backs against a wall. It's based on one fundamental reality: Detroit is setting up for a continued downturn in the market.”

The automakers are clearing the deck and scaling back production. They’re going to jack up prices so they can cover their overhead and make money with higher margins from the sale of fewer cars. This means fewer incentives, fewer fleet programs, and generally higher prices going forward. If you’re planning on replacing your company trucks, do it now.

According to Ed Wallace, “If history is any guide, what we witnessed in 1974, 1980-81, and 1992 was a fairly consistent series of price increases to create profits even as sales tanked.”

Raise prices to make more money on less volume? What would Uncle Frank think?

For those who don't know, Uncle Frank is Frank Blau who was one of the original prophets of profitability for contractors. Frank advocated charging what you needed to make a fair profit.

© 2009 Matt Michel

Economic Fundamentals: The Difference Between Income and Wealth

Originally Published 12.24.08

Sophists were teachers in ancient Greece. The original Sophists trained politicians. Thus, the original use of sophistry was in the political arena. I guess not much as changed in 2500 years, has it?

One area where political and media sophistry has thoroughly corrupted a field of study is economics. The result is that economic illiteracy is at an all-time high. Politicians, the media, and some economists have engaged in an Orwellian “newspeak” that by design or chance has twisted public perception. A good example is the difference between income and wealth.

Income is not the same as wealth. Yet, politicians and the media often refer to wealth when describing income. Income is the flow of dollars resulting from productive activity. Wealth is the accumulation of dollars and other assets.

Think of it this way, income is water running out of the sink faucet. Wealth is the water that’s accumulated in the sink. If a lot of water (lots of income) is flowing out of the faucet, but draining just as fast, little water (little wealth) is accumulated. If a trickle of water is flowing (not much income), but the sink is full and stopped, there’s a sink full of water (lots of wealth).

High income earners are not necessarily wealthy. They are productive. Their productivity and value to society generates the high income, but if they have not managed to accumulate large amounts of it, they are hardly wealthy.

By contrast, the wealthy are not necessarily productive. They may not generate any income from their own efforts. They might be living off the wealth created in prior generations. Granted, Grandfather’s trust might generate income when it’s put to productive use, but that’s mostly a reflection of Grandfather’s effort.

Whenever you hear a politician or journalist use the word “wealthy” see if substituting the word “productive” makes more sense. For example, when politicians say they want to “tax the wealthy,” they really want to “tax the productive.”

© 2008 Matt Michel

Beware The Sophists

Originally Published 12.24.08

In the 5th century, B.C., the world’s first professional teachers and trainers emerged. They were called Sophists. The Sophists roamed the country, giving lectures, taking students, and teaching on any subject in demand. The subject in greatest demand was public speaking and debate skills for use in politics.

The politicians who sought to learn from the Sophists weren’t concerned with truth so much as persuasion. The Sophists were not paid to teach truth, but to win arguments. They could argue that black was white, white was black, good was bad, and bad was good. They became expert in tripping up opponents, setting rhetorical snares to trap them, and if all else failed, drowning them out with the volume of noise they could generate.

The Sophists and their students mastered the ability to twist arguments, to use confusion, to create false arguments. They took pride in being smart and clever, not in integrity and honesty.

For these reasons, Merriam-Webster defines sophistry as “subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation.”

Sophists in Business

Sophists are alive and well in the 21st century. We encounter them every day in business. The overly slick and less than honest salesperson is a sophist. The consultant with an integrity deficit is a sophist. The businessperson who fabricates a great, but untrue story to sell his wares is a sophist.

Fortunately, most businesspeople are not sophists. Most consultants pour their hearts and souls into efforts to help their clients. Most salespeople are honest and sincere.

Unfortunately, the encounters we’ve had with sophists tend to overwhelm the encounters with the bulk of the business community. And if it’s that way for those of us engaged in commerce, imagine what how the business world must seem to average consumer?

Because of sophists, most consumers are like my next door neighbor. “I don’t trust anyone,” he says, referring to contractors. He suffers from a form of contractor paranoia.

While sophists make the honest businessperson’s life more difficult, they also create opportunity. Because consumers have become so jaded from experience, word-of-mouth, and hyped up stories from a thoroughly sophist media, they are overwhelmed when they encounter good, honest companies and latch onto them with the resolution of a terrier.

Prove yourself to the sophist-shy consumer and you will earn a customer for life.

© 2008 Matt Michel

A Small Business Consultant Speaks Out On The Economy

Originally Published 1.22.09

There were a lot of great posts on the thread where I pulled Joel’s comments. Service Roundtable members have read them, so I apologize for repeating a couple. I can’t share all of them, but a day or so after Joel’s post, Matt Prazenka added a thoughtful post. Matt is a former contractor turned business consultant. He’s a sharp guy. I recommend his services. Here’s what Matt has to say about the current economy and media reports…

I have to make a point here, thought not said but merely implied from the first post was that Michigan was in dire strait based upon what? A news story that focus on the extreme of the market place.

The reality has been stated many times before on this site, there is more positive than negative going on! The dollars are there. You have to scratch a little harder to get to them. It is the Media’s focus on the negative and the politicians’ desire to be the savior of all that have suffered the fate of the free market, where those who are more efficient, have a long term plan, and choose to be slightly conservative will succeed and prosper.

Joel, Jeff, John and David state what most Service Roundtable members have chosen to do and not participate in the market decline (and there are many in other places in country I have spoken to with the same program). Quit looking behind you and stare straight ahead with focus on you goals.

I tell everyone quit listening to the news and do not rely on government for an answer. The Media needs headlines to sell advertising and the politicians need justification to impose their inefficiencies (socialization) upon us under the guise of “for the Common Good.”

Our problems, like $140 a barrel oil, will pass. We are missing our piece of the pie the same way we lost air purification to Sharper Image and Plumbers lost pure water to the bottlers. Our energy issues could be addressed by higher efficiency units with a faster pay back than any alternative energy solution.

There are more properties, opportunities and energy savings from HVAC equipment than any other item other than automobiles and building insulation. But the money goes to solar panels and wind power due to sex appeal and lobbyists. It sounds to me like the train is leaving the station and we are here just watching it pull away.

In reading Joel and Jeff yesterday in the back of mind I was humming the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” with the acknowledgement that they were committed to success and would NEVER GIVE UP. Their comments gave rise to my spirits.

I volunteer with many people in Career transition and guess what? There is a lot of activity out there and people are being hired. In the past 3 weeks job postings have multiplied.

Unlike previous down turns there is no inventory (Just in Time Manufacturing) to sell off. When the market place takes off, there will be an immediate need for product and recovery will be robust (not as fast as it drop, but a quicker response than the late 80’s.) So hang on it going to be great ride.

Matt Prazenka
Business Leader
Abacus Business Development

A Michigan Contractor Speaks Out On The Economy

Originally Posted 1.22.09

On the Service Roundtable’s HVAC Roundtable Joel Wensley responded to an article about the poor state of the Michigan economy. He gave me his permission to share it…

Ok, hold on just a minute before you all start feeling sorry for us. You can go ahead and say a prayer; I'll take all the help I can get, the Lord only knows how many times I've prayed for help and guidance. The news story you read is just a small isolated piece of Michigan.

Yes the property values are way down even in the suburbs however, they were way over valued a few years ago. Even the home I live in which I paid $460,000 for 5 years ago would have a hard time yielding $325,000 right now. If I were to make a move up I would be getting a bargain there as well, it's all relative.

People spend far too much time focusing on the negative side of issues. The homes that the article talks about could be purchased 5 years ago for the same amount if you wanted to risk yours and your families' lives by living in the most decrepit and crime ridden areas of downtown Detroit.

Even here in Michigan, where the unemployment rate is high, there are still millions of people working. I for one choose to look at the glass half full.

About three or four months ago, when all I was hearing was bad news, I finally made a decision to turn off the news in my car and in my home. I don’t allow myself to focus on bad news any longer. In conversations with people I keep control and don’t allow it to go south. I don’t want to hear it. When others are talking doom and gloom I simply walk away.

I am focused on growth and I refuse to participate in this recession. Nor will I let it control me or my thoughts. In six months or so from now everyone will have forgotten how bad it supposedly was anyway, so why embellish this line of thinking.

Yes I recognize that things are tougher out there, you'd have to be a complete idiot to at least not recognize it but you just can’t let it consume you it will make you physically sick.

I remember reading something from Matt Michel (Surviving a Slowdown) that it might take some hard work and that if everyone put forth 5% more effort that it would payoff, and he was dead on. It was after reading that article that I made the decision not to participate.

At the end of September we were still on my "stupid" target to only be down 10% in gross sales from 2007. What stupid line of thought. Why would anyone in their right mind plan on failing or at least some sort of failure?

Needless to say after changing my thinking I went at it hard, and we finished the year 4% over 2007 and we are on pace for a record January and 1st quarter.

I think just by being positive and walking around with a permanent smile on my face it has had some effect. People think I'm up to something and I love it. I have responded several times this week to the old "how are you doing" with "if I were any better I'd be on vacation."

Things are really good for me and my company right now. I can't wait for the economy to turn around cause then we'll be Kickin A-- and Takin names!

What have we done you ask? Well for starters I looked at everything in our overhead that I could cut without truly affecting our ability to operate normally.

I doubled our advertising (targeted) we run a lot of TOMA ads in the local papers and such while our competition has basically vanished from the pages. We are mailing to our customer base almost every 40 days.

We are making an increased effort to provide superior customer service and bend over backwards to accommodate people.

We have increased our web presence and have spent money on SEO for the site. We also increased our budget for the pay per click ads and are now going to really track those results.

We are managing our most precious resource (our labor force) more efficiently. In short we are working harder and smarter we are doing whatever is necessary to keep cash flowing through our doors and will continue on this path in any economy.

I cannot stress enough the importance of staying positive and choosing not to be part of the negativity!

Joel Wensley
Mechanical Heating & Cooling
Dearborn Heights MI

Free Marketing Ideas - Part II

Orginally Published 11.4.2008

4. Conduct Brown Bag Seminars For Area Employers

A brown bag seminar is a lunch seminar where people bring a sack lunch and listen to a speaker. Some employers sponsor brown bag seminars for employees on a variety of topics, usually things of interest to the employee.

When I worked in the Fortune 500, two of the brown bag seminars I remember were on vacation planning and financial planning. These were led, as one might guess, by a travel agent and an investment advisor. The company bought soft drinks and the seminar leaders gave out a door prize and an advertising premium.

If you can swing an invitation to lead a brown bag seminar, you get 20 to 30 minutes in front of a group of prospects. Who wouldn’t want that?

You might wonder, 20 to 30 minutes of what? What will I say? What do I talk about?

Think of three to five questions you hear from your customers. For example, plumber might get questions about tankless water heaters. An air conditioning contractor might receive questions about energy efficiency. A pool contractor might encounter questions about salt water pool systems. An electrician might encounter uncertainty about compact fluorescents.

Each question represents a potential brown bag seminar…

Plumber: “Everything You Wanted to Know About Tankless Water Heaters”

A/C: “How to Cut Heating Costs This Winter”

Pool: “Should You Consider a Salt Water Pool?”

Electrical: “Amazing New Options With Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs”

The questions asked by your customers are perfect for a brown bag seminar. It’s what people want to know. Of course, you aren’t limited by things customers ask about. You can add topics people should ask about, but do not…

Plumber: “What’s In Your Water?”

A/C: “Is Your Filter Making Your Home Uncomfortable?”

Pool: “How to Add a Fountain to Your Pool”

Electrical: “What Are Brown Outs, Why They’re Increasing, and Why You Should Care”

You can find other topics by perusing your trade magazines and looking for hot industry issues that may not be on the consumer’s radar…

Plumber: “Should You Buy an Ultra Low Flow Toilet?”

A/C: “What The Refrigerant Phase Out Means”

Pool: “New Pool Safety Requirements”

Electrical: “New Exterior Lighting Design Solutions for Your Home”

Coming up with three to five seminar topics should be no problem. Approach each topic with an eye towards education, not sales. You do not need to sell. Your mere presence is self-promotional.

To make a seminar more fun and memorable, come up with a way to involve one or more people from your audience in a hands on demonstration. Bring a (new) toilet and plunger to teach the proper technique for clearing a stoppage using a volunteer from the audience. You aren’t reducing the need for your company by teaching people how to clear a stoppage. You’re ensuring the audience members think of you when they can’t clear one.

Bring an unusual tool, like an infrared camera, for people to play with. Everyone will have fun using it to show body temperature like the Gatorade ads. Let people play, but then show how it can find air infiltration in a building, identify electrical parts before they fail, identify roof leaks, and so on.

Bring things homeowners don’t usually see, like a condemned furnace heat exchanger. Show them in detail how it failed, how the failure is detected, and why annual inspections are important.

Now that you’ve got a set of topics and some thoughts on how to present them, you’re ready to line up the seminars. Your best route will be through the human resources department. If the company is too small for an HR manager, it’s probably too small for a brown bag seminar.

Call the company and ask for the HR manager. Ask if the company provides brown bag seminars. If not, briefly describe them and probe for interest. Offer to drop by and spend a few minutes with him or her planning a seminar.

Some will be receptive to the idea. Some won’t. If the HR manager rejects the concept, it’s not a rejection of you. It’s the sign of an old school, unenlightened HR manager. Schedule a callback in a year when there might be someone else in the HR role.

Once you win over the HR manager and lead your first brown bag seminar, leverage it for future opportunities, starting with the HR manager. Ask the manager if she can recommend other companies or people to call. If the manager is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, she might know a number of HR managers in the area.

And don’t forget the leave behinds. While the seminar should be educational, you can leave promotional material. At the very least, leave refrigerator magnets. You might also give the audience members gift certificates (greater intrinsic value than a “coupon”).

A month after the seminar, follow up with the HR manager to see if you can offer the company an employee discount.

5. Create a Community Information/Resource Guide for New Residents and Give It to Realtors

Even in recessionary markets, people move. As a small business owner, you may stay put. That doesn’t mean your customers will. Ours is increasingly a transient society.

New homeowners in a community have to build their contacts and connections from scratch. They leave behind their referral networks. Sometimes it’s not that the new homeowner doesn’t know who to call, he doesn’t know anyone to call.

So help. Create a listing of all of the government and community services a new homeowner could need. Provide websites and phone numbers. This includes everything from the State Department of Motor Vehicles for drivers licenses and vehicle registration to the local pound for pet licenses. List the branches of the library, the public pools and parks, tennis courts, schools, etc. It’s easy to come up with quite a list.

Now add basic services. This includes electricity, water, trash, gas or oil, phones, hospitals, etc. Some are municipal. Some are private.

Next, add essential service businesses. List two or three leading companies for each category, except one. Which one? Yours of course.

Add restaurants, retail, and entertainment. Add key community events and dates.

You should wind up with a useful guide. Make sure you note your sponsorship of the guide on the front and back. Make room to add a newcomer’s coupon with your company. Print stacks of the guides and give them to area realtors to pass out to new homeowners.

Assemble an electronic version for your website, calling it a community links page. Ask every business you link with to reciprocate. This will boost your ranking in the search engines, reason enough.

© 2008 Matt Michel

You Can't Save Your Way To Prosperity

Originally Published 11.4.2008

Circuit City announced the close of 155 stores, around one out of every five. Reporters blame this on a down economy. Phooey.

Best Buy is fighting the same economic conditions. Best Buy’s profitability is down from a year earlier, but still strong. And Best Buy executives are nearly salivating at the prospect of Circuit City stores closing. The company’s executives are planning on grabbing attractive Circuit City locations and buying market share. While Circuit City retreats, Best Buy advances.

If it’s not the economy, what caused Circuit City’s problems? Let’s go back to 2003. Some green eye shade Circuit City executive came up with a great idea for saving money. Stop paying sales commissions.

The company got rid of commissions for sales personnel, put them on hourly pay, cut 1,800 jobs, and saved $130 million.

The most successful salespeople, when converted into hourly employees, became the highest paid. Guess who got cut? The highest paid employees, which meant the best and most knowledgeable salespeople.

Four years later, in 2007, Circuit City did it all over again. According to a March 2007 Washington Post story, “Circuit City fired 3,400 employees in stores across the country yesterday, saying they were making too much money and would be replaced by new hires willing to work for less.”

It sounds like Circuit City was trying to save its way to prosperity. Instead, it saved its way into six straight quarters of losses, leading to the current store closings. This time, 17% of the domestic workforce will be laid off.

Even in good times you can’t save your way to prosperity. It never works. Sometimes you need to make cuts, but only the foolish cut their ability to generate sales.

Never cut your rainmakers. Never cut the best paid salespeople and most productive technicians to save money. When times are tough, you need more rainmakers, not less.

Don’t cut your advertising. Don’t cut your marketing. If you can’t invest more, invest smarter. Just don’t cut your ability to generate sales when you need sales the most. This is like a drowning man trying to conserve energy when he should swim for the shore. While he may not make the shore, he’ll definitely drown if he tries to tread water more conservatively.

Best Buy and Circuit City provide the perfect contrast. In 2003, Circuit City started down the path to bankruptcy by cutting their most productive, most experienced, and best paid personnel. Circuit City manager thought they were cutting costs. Instead, the company cut sales, cut service, and ultimately cut profitability.

By contrast, Best Buy is moving aggressively to take advantage of the opportunity opened by Circuit City’s challenges.

Are any of your competitors creating opportunities you can exploit? Are you willing to act like Best Buy? Or will you follow the path of Circuit City?

© 2008 Matt Michel

Running Against The Wind

Originally Published 11.4.2008

About six months ago, I pulled my Achilles tendon. It’s been extremely hard to come back. After every run, it felt like someone was grabbing the back of my ankle with a red hot pincer.

Recently, I’ve recovered enough to be able to exercise using an elliptical trainer. It’s helping me lose some of the weight I gained on injured reserve, but it’s not as enjoyable as running. It’s not outdoors.

I like running down the jogging paths in my community. It takes me through neighborhoods, along creeks, by soccer, football, and softball fields, past ponds, through wooded areas, and across parks. There’s always something different to see. This is my favorite time of the year to run because the trees are changing colors and the temperatures are dropping.

Some people don’t like running outdoors. They don’t like running in inclement or extreme weather. Not me. While I prefer running when it’s 40 degrees, I can tolerate everything from triple digits to freezing weather. Rain doesn’t bother me and I love running in the occasional snow storm.

The only weather I don’t like is wind. Unfortunately, we get more than our share of wind in Dallas. It may not be steady enough for me to feel comfortable depending on Boone Pickens’ wind power as a source of electricity, but it’s frequent enough to make running difficult from time to time.

Running into the wind seems brutal to me. Intellectually, I know I weigh too much for the wind to really affect me, but that’s how it seems. I struggle against a headwind. Conversely, I feel a small lift when the wind is at my back.

While running with a tailwind feels easier than running into the wind, when I time a run the wind doesn’t make much difference. In fact, the difference is so slight that with a little concerted effort, I can run just as fast into the wind as I can with the wind.

That means, the most important variable is not the wind, but my effort. With greater effort I can overcome a headwind.

It’s the same with government headwinds. No matter who wins today’s elections, no matter the composition of congress, there’s only one certainty. Silly and stupid laws will get passed.

Of course, some laws will blow worse than others. Some will make business success seem like you’re fighting a headwind while also running uphill.

So what? Even with a government headwind, you can still succeed, though it might require a little more effort on your part.

I honestly believe the North American introduction of the Sprinter van will have a greater impact on the service businesses who buy these vehicles than the outcome of today’s election.

Government is not an excuse for business failure unless you allow it. With a greater exertion you can overcome any government headwind.

© 2008 Matt Michel

Hire the Yellow Pages Rep

Originally Published 11.4.2008

A whopping 60% of restaurant owners have cut their yellow pages spending over the past two years. Two thirds of the downsizers reported that, “Yellow page reps applied more sales pressure than usual and sometimes even threatening scare tactics.” While really bad yellow pages reps are probably the unpleasant exception, all YP reps are struggling. Think about it… Highly motivated, commissioned, well-trained, professional salespeople in a dying industry. Hire one! Compared to YP sales, you offer unlimited opportunity. Read more.

The Real Problem With Congress

Originally Published 11.4.2008

Forget political parties. The problem with Washington is not party, but occupation. Click here (it’s an Adobe PDF) and scroll down to occupation. Look for business experience.

Free Marketing Ideas - Part I

Originally Published 10.24.08

1. Adopt A Highway (Adopt A Busy Highway/Road With Lower Speeds)

My service club adopted a busy street. One Saturday a month we meet at 8:00 a.m. and pick up trash along a two block section. With two people, it takes 45 minutes. With more than two, it takes less than half an hour.

In return for maintaining the strip, the city put up signs acknowledging our effort. More than once while I’ve been picking up trash near the traffic light, a driver has pulled to a stop, found he was even with me, rolled down the window, and said thanks. Talk about great PR!

Adopting a highway isn’t going to make your phone ring off the wall, but it’s not going to cost you anything either. Make company t-shirts or reflective vests with your logo big and bold on the back.

It will build goodwill. It will build awareness. It will also build your sense of self-worth because you’re doing something good for the community.

2. Ask For Reciprocity

People like to do business with the people who do business with them. It’s natural. When people patronize our businesses, we feel a sense of obligation to return the favor. So remind people of their “obligation.”

Years ago I was visiting a friend whose shop was located in the sticks. At lunch, I noticed a several employees of the contractor were eating in the same restaurant. I asked him about it.

“There’s not many places nearby, so a lot of us come here. It’s close.”

“How many people from your company eat here?” I asked.

This lead to several back of the napkin calculations. We determined my friend, through himself and his employees, was spending thousands a month at the one restaurant. Yet, there was no reciprocity. He didn’t get any work from the restaurant.

We called the manager over, complemented him on his food and service, and showed him our quick calculations. My friend followed up the next week and walked away with a maintenance contract that would ultimately save the restaurant owner money. It was a nice reciprocal arrangement where everyone won.

How can you get started generating reciprocity? A simple thing we put together for Service Roundtable members is a back-of-the-business-card template that asks for reciprocity. The card states, “Who gets your business? I like to do business with the people who do business with me. How about you? The next time you need _____ work, call me. Let’s do business.”

Print this on the back of your business card and hand it out to every business you patronize. Do it EVERY TIME. The message will get through. If the business owner needs your services and doesn’t already have a strong relationship with another company, you’re probably going to get called the next time he needs work at his company or home.

And why not? You’re giving business to him. It only seems natural to reciprocate.

3. Conduct An Employee Business Card Collection Contest

At a Nexstar meeting I attended, a business card collection contest was held for new members. The alliance managers were using the contest to encourage new members to meet as many people as possible. They certainly put forth more effort to meet people than they likely would have without the contest.

It got me thinking. While I generally try to find out other people’s occupations, there are lots of people I know whose occupations are a mystery to me. Mine is probably a mystery to them. These are people at church, involved with youth activities, volunteer work, and so on.

If that’s true for me, it’s probably true for you and your employees, right? Between you and your employees, you probably interact with hundreds, if not thousands of people who might patronize your company if they only knew what you did or where your employees worked. So how do you get the word out?

Well, when someone hands you a business card, what’s the most natural thing in the world to do? Hand one back, right?

So why not start a business card collection contest with your employees? Offer a nice incentive for the winner and a few good consolation prizes for runners up. The incentive should be attractive enough to motivate people to action.

Instruct employees to approach their friends and simply say…

“We’re running a business card collection contest at work to see how many people everyone in the company knows. If you wouldn’t mind, could I get your business card? The company won’t add you to any mail lists, though you might get a thank you card with a coupon.”

Most people will be happy to give your employee a business card. You can run the contest over a long enough period of time that people who may not normally bring business cards to church, bowling, or some other weekly event can bring one the following week.

When someone hands you or your employee a business card, hand two or more back. If the friend or acquaintance tries to give you one back, refuse. Say, “Oh, I’ve got plenty. Just give it to someone who might need it.”

After the contest ends, mail a thank you post card or letter to everyone who gave your employees their business cards and enclose a coupon. Don’t do more. You’ve accomplished your purpose, which is to encourage your employees to spread the word about your company among their circle of friends and acquaintances.

If you need your carpets cleaned, don’t care what company you use, and know a parent on your kid’s t-ball team who is a carpet cleaner, who are you likely to call? Because of the relationship, you assume you’ll get more conscientious service and maybe even a price break from the guy you know, even if you don’t know him well. However tenuous, there’s already a relationship and business is built on relationships.

© 2008 Matt Michel