My first exposure to small business was occasionally “working” with my father when I was a boy. I call it working, but it wasn’t really working. It was an 8 year-old boy spending time with his father and handing him tools when he asked for them (which was rare because all the tools he needed were typically within arm’s reach). So, I would sit around and complain about how bored I was, how boring THE WORK was, then ask repeatedly, “are you done yet?” To this day, I’m still not sure why he continued to bring me back to work with him.
It wasn’t until I was older and became more observant, that I started to appreciate the time my father and I spent “on the job.” I realized this valuable time was less about working, and more about learning. He was demonstrating the fundamentals of successful earning by operating a small business.
His formula for success?
LISTEN TO THE CUSTOMER AND FOCUS ON QUALITY
It’s so simple. Yet these are still two of the hardest concepts for many small business owners to comprehend, especially when first starting out.
My father didn’t attend a business school. Instead, his business education was through trial and error. His business success is not a story of huge monetary gains. He didn’t strive to become a millionaire, and he didn’t want to expand his business to more than a Sole-Proprietorship.
Instead, he consciously contained the growth of his business to ensure his role in the outcome of the finished product. He wanted financial freedom, but at the end of the day, he didn’t want to worry about the quality of an employee’s performance.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONNECTING
My father’s business success story is one of the models I explore when I think of long-term sustainability through connection. His is not a perfect model (the 80’s, 90’s, and even early 00’s didn’t require much of the internet), but it is still worthy of examination because customer connection and retention is still the most important aspect of any business.
In the contracting world, he was considered a throwback because he focused on jobs of all sizes. This was his niche. Need a floorboard replaced? No problem. Have a hole in the wall? Consider it done. Dropped your ring down the sink? He’ll be right over. There was never a job too big or too small for him, and he welcomed both equally. For him, a $20 job had the same importance of value as a $10,000 job.
This approach made him popular with his customers because there was rarely a contractor to be found in his area who would be available for the small, $20 jobs. But these small jobs were the life-blood of his business because they gave him the local household name most small business owners covet. The “hole in the wall” job would often create a repeat customer which turned into continuous work, and often led to contracting much bigger jobs with the same customer in the future.
By answering their initial requests, he listened to his customers without realizing he was doing it. They needed something done, and he responded by not limiting his business. In doing so, he created the trusted connections which gave him the pipeline necessary to sustain long term success. He was rarely without work, even through times of recession.
This approach does require substantial balancing, though. Understandably, most businesses want to grow. But quite frequently, growth does not come without sacrifice, and many times it’s at the cost of the customer’s experience and/or the finished product. Therefore, it is imperative for the small business owner to have a well-developed strategy to handle both foreseeable and unforeseeable growth, as well as a strategy to manage finances in times of recession.
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THE QUALITY OF THE FINISHED PRODUCT
My father, for the most part, enjoyed the process his craft. Even more, he was passionate about the finished product. He was a perfectionist and would spend hours making sure the finished product was to a quality of his liking. He approached his craft in the same regard he wanted others to approach their crafts and services for him. He was never fully concerned in the bottom-line because he knew as long as he provided the best possible result, the bottom-line would be there.
He had a strong business sense and knew the finished product was ultimately his marketing plan. Because of the QUALITY OF THE FINISHED PRODUCT, he became successful in a town where word-of-mouth marketing reigned supreme.
Most customers never saw the process. Most didn’t care. What they cared about, and what they continue to care about, was/is the finished product. This is no different in any other business. Customers purchase the end result, and expect a certain level of quality in return. Not only quality, but the end result must continuously and consistently be completed at a high level.
My father was meticulous with his craft. It’s why his customers would sometimes have to be wait-listed for up to a year before he could renovate their homes. AND THEY WOULD WAIT! Why? Because to them, the quality of his work was worth the wait. Customers knew they would have the renovation completed by a trusted and reliable professional and, even more, they wouldn’t have to worry about the craftsmanship.
For me, this spoke volumes to his business approach. His brand was impeccable. He never abandoned a job, he provided excellent customer service (the man loves to tell stories), and the finished product was of such quality, it was as if he provided the customer with a lifetime guarantee (without officially doing so). He took pride in his work, even if there were certain aspects he didn’t like about it.
As business owners, you must remember the importance of customer connection and quality, even if you’ve been in business for many, many years. Many of you have heard the saying, If You Build It, They Will Come. This holds true on all business fronts.
You need to invest in building your name and brand. Doing so begins with first, listening to your customers and then connecting with them. Second, taking time to ensure the finished product is of the utmost quality. All other aspects of business can be learned. But without these two initial key concepts, your business significantly decreases its chances to become successful.
Of course there are exceptions to this, but why would you want to take a chance by being an exception? Taking pride in your work will not only make the customer more content, but the quality you offer will enable you to comfortably lock your doors at night knowing you offered your customers the very best. This, in turn, will give your business the greatest chance to succeed and excel.
After almost 35 years in business, it’s hard for me to find fault with my father’s fundamental approach. His success gave him the ability to provide for a family of seven. We certainly weren’t spoiled, but he provided everything we needed. Anything we wanted, well, that was a different story. We had to work for our wants. That’s where instilling the value of hard work played an important role in my and my siblings upbringings – a topic we will discuss at a later time.
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