When it is time to retire, who will take over your business? Your business can provide for your retirement as well as the future of your children and grandchildren if planned and executed correctly.
The All-American dream for most of us is to start our own successful business. We dream of one that will make us rich and provide well for future generations of our family. Of those who succeed and pass the business down through multiple generations, in most cases, careful planning of the hand-off from one generation to the next takes place. While it may seem natural to hand it off to the oldest child when the time comes, the oldest child may not be the best choice or may not even want the business according to David K. Nicholas, a CPA with over thirty years experience specializing in emotional and financial issues of family owned and managed businesses.
The Test Drive
Before you bequeath the business in your mind to anyone, it might be a good idea to have them work in the business. The heir to the throne in your mind just might decide they don’t want to inherit the throne once they try their hand at it. On the other hand, you may discover the business philosophies of your offspring may be vastly different than your own and want to preserve a certain management style or company image. Once the company is handed over these philosophy differences can cause very deep wounds that can destroy a family according to Nicholas.
The Stein Theory
Perhaps the most well known father-son team in the limousine industry is Ron Stein and his son, Brandan Stein. Ron is the CEO and Brandan is the COO of Exclusive Sedan Service Worldwide based in North Hollywood, CA. The company is a recipient of LCT Magazine’s, Operator of the Year award.
Ron has a belief that family values should always come before business plans. This is a sentiment also stated by Nicholas in addressing the two. “There are business matters and there are family matters and the two should always remain separate and distinct”, says Nicholas. Brandan joined the business at the age of seventeen. In his third year with the company, it was apparent to Ron that Brandan had the passion, desire and drive to move the business into a new dimension and eventually take over. The succession plan called for a role reversal to allow Ron a little more free time while still being involved in the operations.
Keeping It Real
No two people are going to manage the exact same way. As far as picking a successor, if there are multiple choices, Nicholas recommends forming a board of directors consisting of family members, financial and legal advisors, long term employees and others you value for their business skills. Let them make an independent decision as to who the successor of the company should be. Nicholas also believes that the adult brain is not fully developed until the age of thirty. “While in some rare cases you might trust someone under the age of thirty to take over the business, as a general rule, you should not consider someone under the age of thirty”. Nicholas also states that there are operational decisions and there are financial decisions to be made and the decision-making processes should always remain separate and never be made based on emotions.
You may be unfamiliar with the term “Loyalty Program” but you are surrounded by them. One of the most recognized loyalty programs in the nation is Starbucks who uses a “star system”. Each time you make a Starbucks purchase, you earn a star. When you have accumulated ten stars, you get a free product. On some days, they offer “bonus stars” and this causes people to come in to buy coffee on a given day simply to double up on their stars and get to the reward faster.
Here’s where the loyalty part really plays in. Card-carrying Starbucks customers are not going to go to Peet’s Coffee or another competitor because they want to get something in return for being so loyal and buying ten cups of coffee to get something free. Everyone likes to be rewarded.
Simply awarding stars or points for spending money with your business isn’t the only way to increase sales. Because you control the data collected at enrollment time, you can glean birthdays, anniversary dates, cell phone numbers and email addresses at the time of enrollment. From that day forward, you will be able to track spending habits. You can see what a client likes, which location they go to most often, what their average sale total is, how many days they go without a purchase and many other details that help drive promotions geared specifically for an individual customer.
Speaking of obtaining a customer’s cell phone number, this tool may be the best target you have. During the enrollment process, ask the customer to approve getting SMS messaging from your with special offers just for them. If you use SMS messaging (and you should) you can send special offers that just might drive your customer to your business within the next hour.
California based Weinerschnitzel and Jack In-The-Box are pros at sending out messages to their customers that cause an immediate hunger attack and subsequent purchase. Sending an SMS message that says, “Come in for lunch today and enjoy a free beverage on us” or something similar can skyrocket sales for the day. Sending a message about food at 10:30am to someone working in an office can cause the whole office to decide that a chili-cheese dog is what they are having for lunch.
Photos bring power to your advertising and marketing campaigns. Humans are very visual and can process a photo much faster than reading text. For instance, we could say that a Big Mac has two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese and pickles on a sesame seed bun but it just doesn’t have the same brain effect as showing you this photo of a Big Mac.
Photo courtesy of McDonald’s Inc.
Seeing a photo like this can make you crave a Big Mac and become hungry where it is unlikely the text description above would have the same effect. Could you imagine describing an Antique Rolls Royce without using an image of the vehicle? It just wouldn’t work for you.
With social media at an all-time high, using photos to quickly capture a viewer’s attention and it’s just smart marketing. A photo can actually be used to draw a viewer in to read your message or offer. If you simply use readers will probably just scroll right past your post. Even a simple logo is better than text alone.
Here are some tips for using photos on social media:
#1 – Use high quality images that focus on the message you are trying to deliver.
#2 – Take you own photos! Don’t steal from someone else’s website. It is bad manners to do so without permission and stolen photos could be copyrighted.
#3 – Obtain a subscription to a site that sells high quality stock images like Shutterstock or iStock. You will have access to millions of images.
#4 – Use the proper size photo so it doesn’t get cropped by the dimensions allowed by social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook.
#5 – Use photos that have lots of color or something unique that draws the eye.
#6 – Be tasteful in your selection. While Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s might use scantily clad women in its efforts to sell burgers, featuring a lot of bare skin could backfire and cause a negative connotation of your business.
Social media offers a free platform for marketing your business. Make the most of it by using visual elements such as photos, videos, info-graphics and even memes. Make your posts pop with vivid colors of interesting things that capture the eye and demand attention.
Repeat business is the key to successful longevity. It is much easier to sell to existing customers than it is to bring in new ones. Efforts must be concentrated to keep customers coming back. Here are three suggestions that will improve the way you interact with your customers and keep them coming back forever:
#1 - Hand-In-Hand Products and Services
Many things go hand-in-hand together. Peanut butter and jelly for example. Nuts and bolts, laundry detergent and dryer sheets are other examples of things that go together. They are basically tied to each other. You can’t really use a bolt without a nut. You can’t really use a coffee maker without coffee. Make sure for every product or service you sell that you think about what logically goes with it. Add things to the mix that go together and don’t be afraid to be innovative and get into something new.
An example of this would be a clothing store. While they might focus on pants and shirts, you are likely to find belts, socks, neckties and other accessories to complete the look. Why not provide everything your client might need under one roof?
#2 - Keep In Touch
Don’t end the relationship after the initial sale. Establish ongoing communication. Things as simple as sending birthday cards, holiday cards or other communications lets the customer know you are still thinking of them long after the initial sale. Don’t simply bombard your customer with junk or spam emails but make personal contact with them. If you add a new product you think they might be interested in, pick up the phone and call or send a personalized email telling them why this new product made you think of them.
#3 - Give Good Service
Good customer service is an obvious key to keeping a customer. The number one reason customers stop doing business with a merchant is bad service. A customer is four times more likely to defect to a competitor if they receive bad service. Price and product issues come second and third in deciding where to shop. A poor experience will be remembered for a long time and probably shared with others and hurting your growth. Make sure your environment projects comfort. People like to feel comfortable while they are conducting business. This can be reflected in an organized store or an easy-to-navigate website.
Remember, if a customer experiences a problem, how you handle the problem will determine the long-term relationship status. Don’t become defensive or refute a customer’s claim. It only makes the experience worse and will guarantee the customer will never come back and will share their negative experience with others.
Take a good look at what you are selling. Are there things you can add to improve the offerings? Are you making sure the customer sees value in both the products and the service provided? Is your facility or website welcoming from the moment the customer arrives? If you answered yes to these questions, you are well on your way to continued growth and success.
In a previous blog I wrote about Do-It-Yourself marketing. At the time I wrote that, I thought that was a good idea. I realize now that I knew just enough to be dangerous but not enough to be helpful. The complexity of today’s online marketing has exceeded my knowledge and I find myself attending many classes trying to teach this old dog some new tricks. Oh, the tricks I have learned. It’s much like other life lessons I have learned. Do not take apart something you can’t put back together. Don’t try to tackle jobs that you don’t have the proper tools for. Don’t try to lift something that you know you can’t carry. In general, don’t try to perform jobs that you aren’t qualified or trained to do.
Who does your marketing? In this business, marketing is a necessity to effectively grow your business. There is a distinct difference between advertising and marketing.
McDonald’s might be able to lure you in for a Big Mac through a TV commercial or a billboard and make you hungry by looking at a picture of a perfect looking Big Mac. You know, the kind you never actually receive in person but in the advertisement photos they look mouthwatering – even if it is only a Big Mac.
It is unlikely that you could lure someone in the same way by simply placing a giant photo of an 8-passenger limo on a billboard. People need to have a reason to charter a limo such as a wedding, a funeral, an anniversary, a quinceanera or retirement. If they don’t have a reason, they are not going to drop a grand on a limo because you put a billboard up on the side of the road. It is good marketing as people will remember your name, your logo and the big limo billboard but the sale is not immediate. Repeated exposure of your company name and logo is what builds business in the big picture.
This is why professional marketing is so important to your success. You have to create a top-of mind awareness that makes people remember your name through constant exposure of your name, logo and what services you offer. This can include many forms of media but the most logical choice for our industry means online exposure.
Online exposure can include social media, email blasts, newsletters, pop-up ads and many more options. It is because of all the options available that you need a professional marketer organizing your campaigns and deciding where you will place your ads, the frequency they will be shown and whether they will have a call-to-action button. Someone needs to decide how much you are willing to bid per click to drive traffic to your website. When they click to your website, what will they see on your landing page?
If you are not familiar with terms such as landing pages, CPC, analytics, metrics, SEO and keywords, you really need to hire someone that is thoroughly familiar. You may be great at serving clients and closing corporate travel planners but you must have the opportunity to meet with potential new clients in order to be successful. The TNC’s are
nipping at your heels every day. You need to be in the face of perspective new clients as well as existing clients on a constant basis.
There are many dedicated marketing consultants in this industry. Rather than think of a marketing company being an additional expense, think of a marketing company as an additional source of income. Let’s say that you contract a marketing company for $1500 a month and sales increase $5000 a month from the marketing campaigns. Did you make money or spend money? We all know the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money”. Now is the time folks. If you don’t know what Hootsuite is or Constant Contact, you need some help whether you know it or not. Get your marketing game on by finding a marketing professional to help boost your sales.
It is always frustrating when a new company opens up in town and starts low-balling everyone else to try to gain business. It really tends to diminish the value of products and services offered by area competitors. It would be nice if all the competitors in an operating area could get together and fix the bottom line price point of a particular service or product. However, the federal government refers to these practices as “collusion” or “price-fixing” and other nasty terms that violate anti-trust laws.
There are ways to combat this, but, the point is, we shouldn’t have to. When people call and ask if you will match someone’s price, the reply should be, “It depends on what company we are matching.” For instance, there are many hotel/motel companies operating in the world but a comparison shows they are not at all equal in their product delivery.
You might reply, “You and I will both agree that you can’t call the Ritz-Carlton and ask them to match the price of Motel 6 right? We probably would also both agree that we know what the expectations are for a Motel 6”. They will leave the light on for you, provide a functional bed, a television, some plastic cups in the restroom with some cheap soap and some of the thinnest towels known to mankind.” By contrast, your experience at a Ritz-Carlton would be different from the moment of arrival. Ritz-Carlton employees go through mandatory training on delivering impeccable customer service and Motel 6 employees probably go through very little formal training.
This analogy provides an opportunity to share information about why your company commands a higher price. It could be service, the type of equipment used or even efforts to go green. You can share how important customer satisfaction is as well as employee safety. You can explain that you are never going to have the lowest prices in town because you can’t be the best by charging the least. You might also say that some people prefer Motel 6 for the budget savings while some demand nothing but the best and that is why they stay at the Ritz-Carlton. Don’t be bashful about saying that you consider yourself to be the Hilton of your local industry.
The great thing about low-ballers is they usually end up killing their own business. You cannot charge below market value and save enough to replace equipment or supplies, maintain facilities and pay for quality help by low-balling pricing. Hold your prices, bide your time and watch them die off when they run out of money to keep going while you smile on your way to the bank.
Because most of us conduct business by telephone, having exceptional phone manners is a key to landing sales and obtaining repeat business. The voice answering the phone
represents your business. From the way we answer our phone, to the way we hang up our phone can leave a positive first impression that Is reinforced with a positive ending
impression. Annoying things to callers include being placed on hold, not having basic information or being ill prepared to take the call. Other failing points include not being
friendly and being brisk to get the call over with. Here are some tips for the successful use of the telephone to conduct business.
If a client was standing before you at a counter, you would of course smile and greet the customer you are about to serve. Do the same by phone and your smile will come across the line. Try to answer the phone within three rings. One ring is the ultimate in customer service. Make sure you clearly identify your business name and your name number and call them back. If you have to place a call on hold, make it as brief as possible.
We all have to take messages for someone else on occasion. Being a good messenger is equally important. Messages should include the caller’s name, the date/time of the call and a brief description of the purpose of the call. Never assume the person you are taking a message for has the number of the caller. Put in on the message.
Just Good Manners
There are many basic common manners that must be exercised on the phone. Never chew food or smack gum while on the phone. Do not engage in conversations with others around you. Do not interrupt the caller, even if you think you know what they are going to say. It comes off as rushing them. Don’t make phones calls to clients before 8:00AM or after 9:00Pm unless it is an urgent matter. Always say some form of goodbye before gently handing up the phone.