Words: Corey Adams
For many years we struggled against the big boys. Their marketing budgets were gargantuan, and their sales pitches were rehearsed until they flowed flawlessly onto the prospective client’s ears. Worse of all, they worked. For years, our small company fought against corporate oligarchy. We studied them, cut their prices, and clawed every project we could from their ever-reaching hands. It was hard.
We as a society went through a phase where bigger was better. A large company signified knowledge, experience, and availability. Our primary residential business is foundation repair, and the national franchises are dominated in every way. We even had a new franchise open up, with completely unqualified people and immediately began siphoning off more of our work. Then it changed.
Over the last decade or so, small business has made a comeback. The first I noticed was with coffee shops. Small, boutique coffee shops were opening everywhere. Taking the Starbucks model and scaling it to a local size. Boy did they work. It seemed people felt empowered by paying three times as much for the same cup of joe they used to get through a fast-food drive-thru.
Next, we started to see the black Friday revolt. Small business Saturday became a thing, and people started shelling out money. The small business was back.
How does this apply to our industry? Well, the construction industry is dominated by small businesses. Most of us being the owner-operator type, bidding jobs by night and completing them by day. Our industry is primed to take advantage of society’s willingness to support small business again. I will warn you, just being a small business is not enough. It takes some positioning.
The coffee shops didn’t just serve black coffee, they offered clients unique twists and experiences. What many would call gimmicks, clients ate it up as a pleasurable experience and unequivocally believed the coffee was better.
To position our small businesses in a favorable light we need to offer our clients the same. A unique experience. One that a large company cannot and will not deliver.
Start with branding your company as a specialist. Make your company known for something. To position yourself as the go-to expert for your chosen field, start with educating your customers. Over the years I have put out many videos on foundation repair. Sometimes being so informative a handy person could take the advice and complete the job themselves. It worked. By educating the customers, we are viewed as a go-to source for information. While other companies were trying to hide information, sell proprietary “systems”, and swindle the common folk, we were educating them on how to make the right decision.
Secondly, communicate your size. This happens often during the sales call or on-site estimation visit. I cannot count how many times I have been asked if I was the owner or just a salesman. When I tell them I am the owner, they treat me differently, look at our company differently, and typically buy. Our close rate is higher when they ask this question. They are looking for a small business that they can trust, and an owner that is reachable.
Which brings me to availability. As an owner of a small business, make yourself available to your clients. If they need to call, call them yourself. It seems too easy to delegate customer interaction to a secretary or foreman, but an available owner gives the client added peace of mind that they made the right choice. Oh yeah, and it wouldn’t hurt you to show up on-site some. What makes a small business is an owner. Your customers know that. Be available and show them you care.
Finally, this may surprise you, but handwritten invoices are a thing. They still exist, and it adds a little personal touch at the end of a project. It leaves the customer with the satisfaction that they helped small business, and you are thankful for it. They become more willing to refer you, leave you a review, or hire you again.
The wave of support for small businesses might be at an all-time high. Grab your surfboard and ride it to the heights you have only dreamed of.