If there are no calls on the board, it is because you have neglected to create them.

It's 8:15 a.m. Your experienced, professional, sales-oriented, customer-service-focused, technically masterful plumbers are still at the shop. Ready to go, with nowhere to go.

Sigh. Now what?

It's up to you, dear small-shop owner. Put on your marketing hat and create some action.

Recently, on the TV show "Dateline," there was a segment on an out-of-the-ordinary sailboat race. As the crew worked to increase their lead over the other boats, one of them spotted a "water spout," a tornado over the open sea. The rest of the crew turned to look at the phenomenon, and the waterspout turned and headed straight for them.

They zigged and zagged to avoid the tornado, but to no avail. The tornado stayed with them, like stink on a working dog. The sailors pulled the sails and lowered the mast. They filled the boat half full of water so that it wouldn't get sucked up into sky by the force of the massive funnel cloud. The tornado actually settled right on top of them.

In fact, the crew PULLED it right on top of them by the power of their focus.

Do you get this? Do you understand that you are so powerful that your every thought, every action is a force of creation? The nature of reality is that we are crafting it.

If there are no calls on the board at 8:15 a.m., it is because you have neglected to create them. Your focus has been elsewhere.

We are powerful beings. Watch your words. Words impact reality. Forbid the use of these words at your shop:

    Dead. No one's dying. You just need a few more calls.

    Estimate. Estimate means, "No one is buying. Just go over there and give them a price for work that someone else will do." Instead, use the words "service call" or "sales opportunity."

    Never and always. Get the data and skip the generalizations.

    Economy. What difference can you make by discussing the economy? Do your part to help our economy and grow your own business.

Discipline your thoughts. Prioritize and take action on your to-dos and projects. If you turn your focus on the tornado -- on the "trouble" -- it will gravitate towards you. It must. That's how the universe works. If you focus your words, your thoughts and your energy on making the phone ring, the phone will ring, by mandate of basic universal law.

Bright Ideas

The following is a list of ideas for getting the phone to ring. Keep this list in your marketing binder or file. Add ideas to the list from your own experiences. Have a brainstorming session with your team, and come up with a few dozen more. When faced with an empty callboard, pull this list out and DO SOMETHING that will make the phone ring.

Call your own phone numbers. Make sure they are working.

Call other plumbing companies and see if they are so busy that they are turning away work. If so, offer to help -- and take the overflow.

Go to a restaurant, hotel or office building and find a plumbing problem. Offer to fix it.

Does the weather pose a publicity or public service opportunity? Fax "10 Drought Survival Tips" to the local radio station. E-mail "Heat Beaters: Tips for Staying Cool" to the local newspaper. Flood flyers -- why not?

Call the radio station and offer to do a call-in show. Topic ideas:

    "Bio-terrorism . . . What would happen if the water supply were damaged? The Plumber's perspective."
    "To drug test . . . or not to drug test. Invasion of privacy or essential to business people everywhere?"
    "Breaking stereotypes ?No more butt-crack Plumbers, swinging stewardesses or good-for-nothing kids."
    "Seat left up or down?"
    "Toilet paper: over or under?"
Wear a costume. Colonel Sanders started his chicken empire at the age of 65. He donned a white suit with a black string tie, and traded 11 secret herbs and spices for a nickel a batch. More than 60 years later, KFC has 12,000 stores and the Colonel is the BRAND. Put a costume on and press some flesh.

Craft an "Elevator Speech," a 10 second introduction of you and your company that's so compelling that people listening respond, "Wow, that's interesting. Tell me more." Here's what an elevator speech is not: "I'm just a Plumber." Craft your speech and give it to 10 people a day.

Contact the manager of your local supply house. Ask her if she will make sure that your name is recommended to DIYers who show up at their counter, in over their heads.

Trade out. Trade plumbing work for marketing, publicity, radio time and promotional items, as well as for other services you may need.

Work on an employee's home plumbing problem. Then, canvas the area and offer to work on neighbors' homes. Yep, door to door. Use a bullhorn.

Park your truck in the Home Depot parking lot with a sign that says, "Do you REALLY want to do it, or do you want us to do it for you?" If Home Depot kicks you out, you might create a publicity opportunity.

Park a truck in high visibility places -- Interstate entrances (if it's safe to do so!), grocery stores, schools, movie theatres, parks, sporting events.

Find a parade. Park the truck next to the parade route. Hand out water from the back of the truck.

Fax a "Not an Emergency" offer to 30 good customers. Your schedule is flexible this week. If the problem isn't an emergency, you can give a discount and schedule it to fit when it fits.

Write a controversial Letter to the Editor.

Call your kid's teacher. Offer to go to your kid's school and read a story. Wear your service uniform, and arrive in the service truck. Give out plumbing parts or product samples -- an O-ring would work!

Put a sign in the window of a good friend's place of business. Make it a GREAT sign.

Call your service agreement customers and see if they are ready for a checkup.

Put a flag or banner with your logo and number on it on your house, car, family member or pet and wave it proudly.

Call folks who said, "No," to the elective items on your list. Ask them again.

Mend a fence. Call a less-than-satisfied customer and apologize. Offer to help with any plumbing problems to demonstrate how great you really are.

Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask for business. They may say, "Yes, I need your help. Thanks for asking." And off you go -- calls on the board, and business is booming. It really is a matter of you making it happen. It's easy. It's something you can do. It may be challenging and fear inducing and a bit stressful to get out there and ask for business, but it is something you can do.

Sea Worthy

OK, back to the sailing race from the "Dateline" story. Certainly, being run over by a tornado is a good enough reason to throw in the towel. The "Dateline" reporter asked the captain if he ever thought of giving up the race.

"NO," he replied vehemently. "It was never a question as to whether we would continue to race. If we could, we would. The sail sustained some damage. No big deal. We all assumed that we would continue and that we would win."

So, the tornado was a deviation from the plan. The crew dusted themselves off and set sail. They came in a close second, an astonishing achievement when you consider that their competitors didn't get run over by a tornado. Theirs was the only boat to have to pull the sail and mast down. They came in 25 yards behind the winner, and they are working now to take the trophy back next year.

A "no calls" day is unacceptable. When it happens, make a change. It's like falling down and getting up again. It's like getting distracted, getting blown off course, and responding with a new focus. It's up to you to turn the tide. And you are vastly capable of it.

Ellen Rohr At ISH NA

Ellen Rohr is a feature speaker at the ISH North America trade show debuting in Toronto Oct. 31-Nov.2. Ellen will present two sessions of "PHC Service/Small Business Management" on Friday, Nov. 1. First at 10-11:30 and again at 2-3:30 p.m. To register for the show, visit www.ish-na.com.