What should a person do when his files are bulging to the breaking point, and he’s too harried to organize his thoughts? I think the thing to do is dispose with narrative and compose a lazy man’s article like this one.



What should a person do when his files are bulging to the breaking point, and he’s too harried to organize his thoughts? I think the thing to do is dispose with narrative and compose a lazy man’s article like this one.

Here are some business tips I’ve collected over the years. Some no doubt apply to your business.

1. Focus on only one thing in any direct mail promotion. Maybe it’s a product special, or a seasonal offer, or limited time discount. But don’t try to sell too much in one package. Direct mail pros know that you only confuse people with variety. The most effective mailings focus on one special deal at a time.

2. Senior discounts. Do you give senior citizen discounts to people “age 55 and older”? If so, stop insulting them. Tell them you give discounts to people age “55 and better.”

3. Long warranties. Everyone offers a one-year labor warranty. How confident are you in the work you do? If it’s a lot, extend yours to three years, five years, whatever you think you can handle without too much risk. It’s a way to distinguish yourself from competitors. Keep in mind that after a number of years have passed, most people won’t remember your warranty - or even your company’s name! But if you make the warranty promise, keep it, no matter what. Lies always come back to haunt you.

4. The duck pond gambit. Last summer I took my two-year-old granddaughter to a local carnival. More than anything else she was attracted to the booth with little plastic ducks floating in a pond of water. You turn over the ducks to find a number that corresponds to cheap prizes ranging from cheesy to junk. Nonetheless, she loved it because she was guaranteed to win something, and there’s no such thing as junk to a two-year-old, only treasure. This reminded me that people like to win prizes and giveaways, no matter how modest. Think about this when you prepare for your next home show.

5. Preventive maintenance. This is just a pet peeve coming from a former English teacher, but it drives me up a wall every time I see some trade business use the phrase “preventative maintenance.” There’s no such word as “preventative.” It’s preventive. (Some dictionaries cite “preventative” as an acceptable alternative form of “preventive.” That’s a cop-out. The words mean exactly the same thing, and the extra syllable serves no useful purpose. So stop it. Please.)

6. Leasing trick. Are you nearing renewal on an equipment lease? It may be a good strategy to first cancel the existing lease and renegotiate more favorable terms. That’s because renewal income tends to be pure profit. The owner has no real selling expense, so he might be willing to negotiate down a bit. Or, he might call your bluff, especially if there’s a strong aftermarket for the equipment. In that case you simply pay the same price you would have paid if you didn’t try this gambit.

7. Advertising does work. I’ve heard over and over businesses claim they wasted money on advertising that just doesn’t work for their kind of business. Advertising does work. Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and so many other large corporations are household words but they still spend billions of dollars on advertising? Are they fools? It’s just that advertising is more like a shotgun than a rifle. You must budget for it and figure out the right media to use. Name recognition builds slowly and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. An old adage holds that half of all advertising dollars are wasted. Problem is, nobody knows which half.

8. People get results. Speaking of advertising, various studies have shown that print ads showing people in them get much better results than ads not showing people.

9. Focus on the person at hand. The customer or prospect you are dealing with at any given time deserves to be the center of your attention. Let the phone ring and ignore people who try to interrupt you.

10. Lottery tickets as premiums. I know of several businesses that like to make a splash by giving away lottery tickets as promotional premiums - or with thank you letters. It’s cheap, rather unusual and holds the potential of great value. But I hate the idea. That’s because it creates the impression of the sender being a gambler, and that’s not a good image for someone in business to cultivate. Besides, it could lead to turmoil if the ticket turned out to be a megabucks jackpot winner.

11. Expand your horizons. Every once in awhile, pick up a trade magazine from another field and read it as intensively as you would this one. You’ll approach things from a different perspective, and will be surprised at how many new ideas you’ll pick up.

12. Rules made to be broken. Some rules never should be broken, such as those involving laws or governing safety. Rules that are OK to break include company policies and procedures, if that’s what it takes to satisfy an important customer.

13. Make it a practice of quoting more than you charge. I learned this from a prominent HVAC contractor years ago. When his company bills a customer for an installation or repair, they always try to give back $10 or $15 from the original quoted price, saying they realized some savings on the job for one reason or another. Customers go away feeling like they’ve saved a little money and end up thinking that these people are the most honorable folks in the world.

14. Handwritten notes. Don’t be afraid to handwrite something on a business letter. A handwritten P.S. or even the salutation of a form letter lets the recipient know that there’s a human being on the other end.

15. JUST do NOT even TRY them. Those three capitalized words can be sales killers. The word “just,” as in, “I’m just calling about that job you have out to bid,” reduces the impact of what you’re saying. (Exception: When talking price, you do want to say, “It’s just $199.”) “Try” is a word that implies failure. Instead of saying, “I’ll try to get back to you soon,” you’re better off saying, “I’ll get back to you by 5 p.m. if not before.” “Not” belongs in a category of negative words that also includes “won’t,” “don’t” and “can’t.” Try to eliminate them from your sales vocabulary, substituting positive words instead.

16. Plastic safety cones. Are your vehicles equipped with plastic safety cones? Putting them in back forces the drivers to check the rear before backing out of any driveway. Even better is to couple them with back-up beepers.

17. Clever Web site promotion. Want to get people to check out your Web site? Don’t just drop the address inconspicuously into a mailing. Put it on a “Post-it” note attached to your mailing, and recommend that the recipient bookmark the site.

18. Plagued by tool and equipment theft? Put your company logo on tools and equipment, along with reward notices. Offer amounts commensurate with replacement costs.

19. “We’re the only company in our market that …” Complete that statement and you’ll have discovered what all the sales and marketing consultants refer to as your “Unique Selling Proposition.” What is it that you do better or different than anyone else? Why should a customer buy from you rather than any of your numerous competitors? Think.

20. Cool advertising tip. To highlight a key message in your ad, draw a circle around it with a felt tip pen (red if the ad includes color). Then draw an arrow pointing to the circled message and a hand-scripted notation, “Read this!” Don’t be too neat. You want to make it look like it’s not part of the ad.

21. Put your photo on your business card. Matching your name with your face can have some positive results. Be sure it’s a good photo, in color. It will cost a little more than normal business card production, but not as much as you might think.

22. Pass out your cards far and wide. Get in the habit of leaving your business card along with the gratuity whenever you patronize a bar or restaurant. Bartenders and servers chat with a lot of people and they may encounter someone in need of your services. Also, put a message on the back of your card saying, “We’re always looking to hire good people,” and couple it with a phone number. A lot of bartenders and servers are just trying to make ends meet while they look for better jobs.

23. How not to do it. Publicize to all employees incidents of lousy customer service. Describe them in regular memos or a special section in your in-house newsletter. Don’t mention names of the people responsible. You don’t want to humiliate the individuals, but keep track of customer complaints and evaluate them with an eye toward what went wrong and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Keep in mind that most customer service flubs result from systemic flaws, not individual misdeeds. It’s in your interest to identify those aspects of your operations that lead to dissatisfied customers, especially when the same troubles get repeated.

24. Give employee-of-the-month awards. Be sure to send out press releases announcing the winners to your community newspapers. It’s a nice reward for good employees and boosts their stature - and yours - within the community.

25. Guarantees sell. Yet most promotional materials we see bury the guarantees deep within the body copy, sometimes not mentioning them at all. Start making hay with statements like “satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back.” Product and workmanship guarantees can be one of your main competitive edges. Shout them from the rooftops rather than treating them as an afterthought.

That’s all for now, but there’s plenty more where these came from. I’ll send another salvo your way next time I’m too lazy to produce a genuine article!