Staying the same or changing: What really matters?

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amazon warehouse
An Amazon warehouse. Jeff Bezos offers some good advice on priorities, though the New York Times has asked some challenging questions about the company’s work culture and values.

The citation chain will get  a bit long here, but there is value in considering this quote I gleaned from Michael Jeffries, who learned it from Basecamp, who attributed the original source as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos:

Find the things that won’t change in your business and invest heavily in those things.”

He explained it like this… “Take Amazon for example… 10 years from now people aren’t going to say ‘I wish Amazon shipping was slower’ or ‘I wish Amazon had a worse selection’, so we invest heavily in fast shipping and a broad selection.”

Jeffries translated these questions to the residential contracting industry (though frankly they apply equally effectively in the ICI space and among related professionals and sub-trades:

Now, what do you come up with when you ask yourself that question?

Let’s take three of the top complaints consumers have about the trades.  How about these…

10 years from now, people aren’t going to say, “I wish they would take longer to return my calls…” or, “I wish they would communicate with me less than they do…” or, “I wish they would show up less often so that my project will take even longer to get done…”

What else are people NOT going to be saying 10 years from now?

Think about it.

Notably, however, in an earlier posting, Jeffries described the problems of giving free advice to desperate business owners in survival mode, who cannot see beyond their own immediate struggles.

At the request of a friend, I agreed to help a restaurant owner in a far-away city with some ideas to get more customers coming through the door.

I’ve learned over the years that giving free advice – especially marketing advice – is almost never a good thing.  Too many people already ignore what I tell them to do… and those are the ones paying for my advice.  Against my better judgement, I agreed to have a phone conversation with this restaurant owner.

The conversation started with her tale of woe.  Her restaurant is in a little town in the Rustbelt; the economy there is in the tank, the big employer in town is downsizing (again), nobody has any money, and everybody’s suffering.

Now, one thing I happen to know about restaurants is that birthday marketing works.  Even in tough times – maybe especially in tough times – people celebrate their birthdays by going out to dinner.

So I suggested a low-cost postcard strategy built around this idea.

“No,” she said, “that won’t work in my town.”

I made a couple more suggestions and got essentially the same answer.  Besides, she was too busy just doing the things she needed to do just to keep afloat… she had no time for any of this other stuff.

I wasn’t much help to her, I hate to say.  But I also know she didn’t really want my help.

She had switched her business to survival mode and she wasn’t able to see anything beyond paying next month’s rent and light bill.

I ended the call saying that, even though I understand that she is completely consumed in the fight to keep her doors open – I’ve been there myself – she has to do at least one thing every day that is going to bring in just one new customer.  I’m sure my words fell on deaf ears.

It’s been said many times by many business consultants that you need to do something different if you expect different results.

A surefire way to fail is to keep telling yourself that external forces are keeping you down… that they are the reason that your business isn’t succeeding.  Whether it’s low-priced competitors, cheap-skate customers, the rising cost of materials, your inability to get good employees to work for you… the list is endless (if you want it to be).

And yet, in your market, I’m betting there is at least one competitor who is charging higher than “normal” prices, and getting all the business they can handle.  I’m telling you that, if they can do it, there’s no reason that you can’t.

If your sales and profits are stuck in a rut, if you’re so focused on paying next month’s bills that you can’t seem to find time to focus on growth, it’s time to consider doing something different.

Ironically, “doing something different” in my opinion may start by closely looking at the three tales of woe Jeffries suggested drive clients nuts.  Simply work each day to work on your communication, jobsite management and scheduling — to make everything even more effective for your current clients. As you cover the basics, you may gain some insights into some ways you can go beyond the norm (even to the WOW stage) in enhancing your client experience.

Then try at least one new marketing strategy you’ve determined works well for others (by obtaining consulting advice, or perhaps by monitoring successful similar businesses in other cities/communities. (You won’t be seen as a competitor, and you can pick brain from the successful business owners if you ask nicely.)

It takes courage to change. But equally, it is important to know when and where to change — and that may be in areas that are among the obvious and seemingly perennial client service/value challenges within our industry.

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