This is not a time to erect barriers between customers and your business.
We are in a terrible economic environment and
many of you are feeling the pinch. There’s nothing you can do to increase
demand for your work, so the focus needs to be on landing a larger portion of
the work available. Here are some ideas for doing so.
1. Less can mean more.The natural tendency for contractors
when work slows down is to frantically chase any jobs around. Projects that
might have had a handful of bidders a year or two ago now may have a dozen or
more. The marketplace comes to resemble a shark feeding frenzy, except nobody
gets enough to eat.
Long ago I read of a study that maintained when there are a dozen or more
bidders on a construction project, it’s virtually impossible for a contractor
to turn a profit. That much competition will drive the bid prices so low the
only way to win is to make an estimating mistake.
So instead of joining the feeding frenzy, look to nibble on little market
niches that may be underserved.
During the early 1990s, the construction market in California hit the skids. I
was attending an MCAA convention back then when I struck up a conversation with
a rather small member from Southern California, and asked how he was weathering
He told me work had dried up almost completely when he got an opportunity to
handle a parking garage project. There wasn’t much to the mechanical scope as I
recall, just drain piping and a little bit of ventilation, but none of his
competition was interested in the job and his firm took on the project, which
turned into a slew of similar jobs around the region that he said kept his
company alive during the downturn.
Caution - if the reason you decided against pursuing certain jobs was you
didn’t trust the owner or GC, that’s still a good reason to avoid them. More so
now than ever.
2. Do what you do well.Every business does some things better
than others. What’s your specialty?
Define for yourself what your business specialty is. Then start promoting your
company as the problem solver in that line of work.
3. Take the initiative.You can’t afford to wait for the
phone to ring. Make it happen.
Network like crazy and collect business cards from influential people until
your pockets can’t hold any more. It’s more important to collect business cards
than to give yours away. That’s because you have no control over what they do
with yours. Most will discard them or file them where they’ll never be seen
But once you have their contact information in hand, you have the ability to
follow up with e-mails, phone calls, mailings, personal notes, business leads, etc.
4. First impressions last.Making contact with influential
people is like getting fish to notice your bait. The bigger challenge is
convincing them to strike and then landing them in your boat.
You can put in hours of schmoozing to get the phone to ring with a potentially
lucrative business deal, but then a phone receptionist with a lackadaisical or
surly attitude can kill it within seconds.
Customer courtesy and customer service are always important, but critically so
when times are tough. Make sure everyone in your company who comes in contact
with customers is trained to put on a happy face and make customers and prospects
feel good about doing business with you.
Assume that every phone call, every conversation, could be the one that turns
your life and business around.
5. Make it easy to do business with you.I’m astounded by
the unnecessary barriers many businesses put in place between themselves and
customers. Not long ago I needed to pick something up at a local lawn and
garden center, and called a little before 6 p.m. to inquire whether they were
still open. “We close at 6,” said the lady answering the phone. I told her I
could be there within 10 minutes and if she’d mind staying open just a few
minutes longer. “Sorry, we close at 6,” came the stern reply.
Guess which lawn and garden store never gets another dime of my business? This
is not a time to invoke stupid rules and rigid company policies. If a
customer’s needs are inconvenient to you, bend over backwards to alter yours to
Five Tips For Surviving In Bad Times
October 1, 2008