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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Getting it right

This posting from TSJHD1 on the JLC Onine site is worth reviewing, carefully, if you are a subtrade or supplier. It gives simple, essential pointers to success, including:
Loyalty, cleanliness, help with job management, and looking out for ways to save the client money.

"I placed myself above my competition by looking out for the builder's needs. I didn't compromise my own, however. And really this stuff paid off. I could charge a little more (not a lot), got paid very promptly even when others had to wait, and I got steady work, not peaks and valleys, which makes running your business a whole lot easier. I could grow, and I didn't have to look for work."
Read the entire posting here, and think carefully. I haven't seen sounder advice for subtrades in recent memory.

Convention and creativity

"Mediocrity: It takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it's too late."

One of the most interesting aspects of business is how most of us accept mediocrity, most of the time. We know of the terrible client service at the telecom companies, the piddling stupidity of 'rush hour' traffic (a misnomer of phrase if there ever is one) and the dumb, arrogant, and wasteful exercise of office politics and perks. Some of us rebel, some of the time. We find other answers, routes, ways around the boring banality that so much of business is today. Or we seek effectively offensive solutions-- with a willigness to irritate the many in order to find business with the few ( . . . have you ever seen a telemarketer at work or, worse, been one.)

There are better ways, of course, and I expect most successful businesses to some extent find these -- or they wouldn't survive. In truth, you only need to have part of the picture exceptionally 'right' to succeed; you can follow 'standard practice and get by with the rest. Of course, it is refreshing when you find businesses which go beyond the standard, and find ways to allow their employees to express their creativity, achieve success, and still serve their clients and the marketplace effectively and profitably.

I want my business to fit in that small, special, and vital category -- innovating in core areas; and refusing to tolerate mediocrity in the rest of the enterprise. So, here are the rules.
  • We've banned "rush hour" (within reason). Our business encourages telecommuting and work-from-home arrangements. We have an office and our support (office) staff will need to be in the building in core business hours (otherwise the whole thing doesn't run very well); but even then we are reasonable -- if it is snowing miserably, distant employees can arrange to work from home and, that day, clients may have to deal with a little more voice mail than usual.
  • We don't "read resumes" and "interview prospective employees". Well, not exactly, resumes, interviews, and reference checks are part of our hiring picture, but not in the conventional order/cycle. Instead, we encourage prospective candidates to "interview themselves" with a preliminary questionnaire -- only if they answer it will we even bother to read their resumes (but everyone who sends in a resume will receive the questionnaire; the person responding -- not us -- will be the 'screen' for suitability. Our systems work really well -- we don't waste time in the hiring process, and are getting it right. (The payoff: Our employees don't need to worry about 'rush hour'.)
  • We believe in giving more than taking; the paradox is the giving works far better than any conventional 'taking' in finding new business. This blog, for example, has become something of a 'lead machine' for the sales team. Readers respond to our offer of Seven Tips for Construction Marketing Success, and then take up the offer to do business with us. Of course, you don't need to do business with us to read the report, email me, or ask questions. (And I've enjoyed some useful and valuable dialogues and information sharing with non-clients whom we never expect to do business with.)
  • We believe business should be (mostly) fun; not the phony 'rah rah' type of enjoyment; rather the satisfaction of doing the right kind of work, at the right time, for the right people. I am not going to force a really good administrative person to be a salesperson (though she earns a significant annual bonus helping out on a sales project which she enjoys); and we don't expect our sales team to be journalists or writers (though two of them actually have journalism training, and when they are not suggesting stories to our editor, they sometimes write their own stuff -- attending interesting events and meeting valuable sales contacts in the process. And, yes, our editor knows instinctively when to pass a lead onto the sales department.
  • Finally, we believe business should serve a useful purpose; in our case,helping our clients find more clients; and supporting our readers in understanding and addressing issues affecting their communities and industry. This is work for which we deserve to be paid -- and we are.
I'll continue to battle mediocrity, boring, wasteful and stupid practices with the goal of creating and building something useful for everyone around us. This is not a machine, of course. We are human and sometimes things don't work the way they should. But more often than not, we are winning the battle against mediocrity and stupidity.

Admit it!

Craig Galati is a principal of Lucchesi Galati, a LasVegas consulting firm practicing in the areas of architecture, sociology and sustainability.

Yesterday's mail included more books (by now you probably can tell I read a lot), including Architect Craig Galati's little gem: Admit It!: 21 Things You Already Know But Apparently Have Forgotten Regarding Client Service.

His self-published booklet-- at 43 pages it is too small to be regarded as a commercial book -- is a useful resource and reminder of the basics that we easily forget: Return your calls, keep your promises, accept responsibility, and be flexible, among others.

Here are the 21 'things' reflecting the book's chapters:

  1. Treat clients the way they want to be treated
  2. Make repeat business and referrals your goal
  3. If the client looks good, you look good
  4. Get to know who the 'real' client is
  5. Make it easy for your clients to describe you as excellent
  6. Never say 'no'
  7. Go out of your way, all the time
  8. Never forget that all of your actions contribute to the customer experience
  9. Don't return calls during lunchtime
  10. Make your clients feel at home
  11. Give more than clients expect
  12. Customer service is not an act or time of day; it's a lifestyle
  13. Return the routine phone calls promptly; return the difficult ones sooner
  14. Keep your promises
  15. Thoroughly understand what value means to your clients
  16. Tackle the tough issues face-to-face
  17. Tell the truth always; own up to your own mistakes
  18. Don't blame someone else
  19. It's not aboout who's right or wrong; its about resolving the issue at hand
  20. Be flexible. Each client's needs and projects are different
  21. Don't lose touch after the job is done.

These, indeed, are common-sense basics of client service, brand harmony, and solid business relationships.

Craig's The Heart of Business blog is worthy of bookmarking.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Free Rainmaker book

Ford Harding is offering a few readers of his blog free advance copies of the updated edition of his classic book: Rain Making: The Professional's Guide to Attracting New Clients. I'll be reviewing it for The SMPS Marketer; you can review it for Amazon.
Is it worth reading and reviewing? Absolutely. The reviewing process will help you integrate the knowledge you receive from the free copy. Check his blog to learn how to obtain your copy.

The Long Tail reviewed

Sure, I recommend this book. And if you purchase it through this link, I'll be paid a tiny fee from

On the five hour flight home last night, I worked my way through a couple of chapters of a somewhat turgid book on sales management, then breezed excitedly through the beginning of Chris Anderson's book "The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More".

The former book advocated the (to me) stereotypical principals of business management and control; including "interview techniques" to discern the suitability of applicants, and "sales testing" suggesting (expensive) conventional approaches. Yawn. I sensed a textbook approach -- perhaps appropriate to train a mediocre person how to do a mediocre job managing a mediocre sales force. But I will get through the book in the next week or so, regardless. Somewhere in the pages I'll find something useful; and in any case, to me it is reassuring to see that we are now operating things sufficiently far above the norm with well-thought and rational management systems that get to the bottom of creating an effective sales force.

Anderson's book is much more exciting because it reflects a fundamental shift in the way business is done. His point: Tiny niche markets are now more than ever viable, and a business that can tap into these markets will create lasting and meaningful value. While his point is relevant for services that can be distributed over very large areas in very small quantities (the antithesis of actual construction projects), I found insights relevant to our industry in the granularity of processes and services underlying the actual projects -- and, in this aspect, highly relevant to contractors, architects and engineers looking to find the competitive edge both in marketing and cost-control in project delivery.

Anderson's point is that businesses such as now sell thousands of titles that would be uneconomic to distribute in conventional book stores - even the largest store cannot hold all the inventory for titles that may sell one copy every three of four months. This dynamic is even greater in music, where files can be downloaded at no 'hard cost'. Sure there are still 'hits' but now choice is much wider and deeper -- and a surprisingly large component of the market is now within this 'long tail'.

I see evidence of this element with the review of search engine logs for this blog -- about half of the inquiries that lead people to the pages here only are made once, period. The clearest evidence of this process is the success of my brother Jim's 'recycling' of music within a genre that I have trouble understanding and following (I am utterly unmusical).

More than a decade ago, Jim cut a CD. It didn't sell more than a hundred copies. One found its way into a used record bin somewhere, then a couple of years ago, someone uploaded it onto the Internet. He received an order from an online music service. Now, although his Renegade Productions Inc. business is still primarily renting music studios in Vancouver, he receives dozens of orders each month from specialized Internet music distributors and consumers -- and even has a modest (but very real) international "fan club" in cities around the world, especially Munich, Germany. Some of his revenue comes from people who pay a fraction of a cent to a music streaming service to listen to one of his songs, once.

Okay, you say, this is relevant for the music business perhaps, but how does it help me win a $100,000 drywall contract, or an architectural commission for a major new project?

Although I haven't reached near the end of Anderson's book, I sense the relevance of this trend is in the details: In the process of how you select and work with your employees and colleagues, especially in discerning and enhancing details that, individually, won't count for much, but overall, will shape your projects in new and exciting ways. Say, you can build in a series of market-centred goodies that capture the ideas of your clients; or find specialized innovations or cost savings in different aspects of your projects; if you could create designs that go beyond the textbook logic; or provide services with just that little bit of sparkle in innovation and 'edge' -- do you think you might win more and better projects, at higher margins? I think so.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Social networking sites such as and can be useful -- but are best applied with other marketing intitiatives.

Here is a column I wrote today for our Canadian publications.

About three months ago, I discovered the potential power – and dangerous limitations – of social networking sites like and Fascinated by’s ability to create a seemingly infinite number of connections (my total now exceeds one million!), I tried their help wanted service and posted a $150 ad. works on the principal of connecting the “six degrees of separation” – that everyone could theoretically know everyone in the world through just six connections.
The ad initially seemed to be a dismal failure: We received just two responses, and one didn’t match our criteria in any way. But Daniel Smith, who now works with us as our Ottawa-Eastern Ontario representative – met all the criteria. (Daniel is staying away from Facebook for now, but you can check out the Ottawa Construction News Facebook site here.) We hired him, and he has introduced us to other web-savvy resources that speed up our processes and make it easier for you to communicate with us. He, of course, is young – having recently graduated from Carleton University’s journalism program.
This success motivated me to use my old-style journalism skills. I proposed an article about Social Networking for The Marketer, published by The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) – an association with 6,000 plus marketing professionals for the architectural, engineering and construction industry, mostly in the U.S. Journal editor Randy Pollock accepted my story proposal – and went a step further. He invited me to join the Marketer’s Editorial Committee.
I wrote the (print) story, and submitted it – it has just gone to press.
Little did I know that our Southern/Western Ontario representative, Chase, in St. Catharines, had decided to experiment with Social Networking sites. He set up Facebook pages for our Canadian papers. (This one is for The GTA Construction Report.) I told him about my Marketer article, and we crafted an email campaign to let people know about the new sites. The result: A flurry of activity and new, productive sales leads for our business.
But, if you go to the beginning of this column, you’ll see I wrote “dangerous limitations” about social networking. The senior people I interviewed for The Marketer article said that social networking sites are a useful resource but NOT a replacement for proper, direct, human connections. In other words, your “friends” on Facebook or are unlikely to do business with you unless you know them a little more personally. And you may find yourself spending hours on the computer with unproductive games and time wasters.
I have learned something important from this experience: You can achieve the best results by integrating several media simultaneously. Done properly, you will find you achieve a seemingly exponential increase in effectiveness for relatively little effort. An example: I’ll take this column, originally intended for the print editions of our Canadian publications, and post it as an entry on my Construction Marketing Ideas blog (and you are reading it here, now.)

* * *

As we print this issue, Leslie Greenwood is joining our staff. Based in Sault. Ste. Marie, she will work with us in co-ordinating the launch of our newest publication, Northern Ontario Construction News. NOCN will serve communities including Sudbury, North Bay, Thunder Bay and of course Sault. Ste. Marie, with locally and regionally relevant news. The additional communities will also enhance the value and effective of Ontario Construction Report, making our publication the first truly provincial construction industry title, with more than 10,000 readers.
You can reach Leslie care of the Northern Ontario Construction News Facebook site, or phone 888-432-3555 ext 114 and ask to be connected (at press time we are still setting up her phone extension and email link.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Global perspective -- local focus

This image is from the State of Kentucky's Construction Partnership Program. I don't cite "connect with government programs" in my narrative below about how to survive a recession, because I've found (in my experience) these initiatives seem to deliver less than the publicity material they produce promises. But I can always be proven wrong.

It's just before 10 a.m in Vancouver -- our weekly staff meeting commences at 1:30 pm eastern time, meaning the meeting is just about a half hour away. Early this morning, Vancouver time, I wrote a story about the state of the North Carolina construction economy; in a few minutes, I'll be connecting with our staff for our weekly review.

The gap in geography isn't that great in a global sense, of course -- we are all in North America and the time zone gaps are really not as bad as if I were in Singapore. paradoxically, the economic perspectives aren't that far off as well. The Ottawa area and the West Coast of Canada, along with North Carolina, appear to be weathering the current economic crisis quite well -- sure there is a slump in the residential real estate market in North Carolina, but in all three areas the commercial and infrastructure side of the marketplace remains healthy.

As I pointed out in my last posting, the reality of the construction business is that while it is obviously affected by national and global forces, it is distinctly local in nature -- meaning that even when things are truly difficult in one part of the country/globe, things can be booming in others. This is good news if you are fortunate enough to be in the right areas. But what if you aren't?

Here are your options:
  • Hunker down, reduce your costs and payroll so you can remain in economically positive territory -- if necessary, virtually shut the business down except for some maintenance work (which you can do yourself). While this may seem to be a painful option, if you plan things right, you can weather the storm and retain your business for better times;

  • Find new clients through effective sales and marketing initiatives. If you have been used to bidding jobs, or relying on a backlog of word of mouth referrals, you may be able to substantially improve your business by attracting new clients through effective sales and marketing. The challenge is doing this right -- you don't want to throw good money after bad on ill-conceived marketing campaigns, and (as in any circumstances) if you are the least bit desperate, you may make big mistakes, either falling for marketing 'cons' or simply failing the patience test required for most marketing campaigns.

  • Expand to new markets geographically or by economic sector. Again, you need to be wary of the risks here -- you can be digging a bigger hole for yourself if you step into areas where you lack experience or comfort.

  • Plan a strategic combination of the choices above -- considering your choices and building fail-safes into the picture.
Fortunately, you can now research your options easier and at far less expense than ever before. Heck, you are reading this blog -- and it isn't costing you a cent. You'll find other resources on the Internet. But there are other resources, reliable and rational, including your relevant trade associations.

The latter expense, by the way, is one of the last I would cut. Back in 1991, at the height of the early 90s recession, I considered briefly cancelling my membership in the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association. I decided to hold on -- and, a few months later, received a call, out of the blue, inviting me to prepare a proposal for a new association publication. "Will there be competing bids," I asked. "No, you are the only member in the classification to do this type of work, and the association follows its motto: 'Be a member -- Do business with a member" in its own practices." We continue to co-ordinate the publication of The Impact! more than 15 years later.

Yes, the construction industry is local, but the world is global. Keep your eyes open, your mind alert, and you'll make it through the hardest economy with your business intact and in good shape for the recovery ahead.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Little things mean a lot

I really like this posting on Ford Harding's blog -- the 'big win' often is the result of a number of small but crucially important little things. We should never forget that seemingly unimportant details count, a lot.

Heading west (and south)

Construction has boomed on Canada's west coast, with the impending Winter Olympics. Should you move -- or expand -- your business to a thriving market when your current market is in decline?

In a couple of hours, I'll be on my way to Vancouver, B.C. for a two day visit with my mother and siblings. It's the first visit 'home' in more than a year, and the first in several years without Eric and Vivian.

When I get there, after a family dinner and visit with relatives, I'll wake up tomorrow to write a story about North Carolina's construction economy. What I'm hearing in North Carolina echos to some extent what we're seeing in Canada -- there are signs of a less-than-perfect economic environment, but at least in the non-residential sector, things are going well. (There is a housing slump in North Carolina, but this paradoxically is helping the rental market -- people want to move there, where there are jobs, but they can't sell their homes in other U.S. communities.)

This raises interesting and important questions about the construction economy, marketing, and local conditions. Our industry is acutely affected by macro-economics; the current economic crisis touches close to home and one of the first signs of economic downturn in the larger economy occurred when truck makers suddenly found that small truck sales were sharply declining -- reflecting the deterioration in the residential construction market after the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

But conditions are not necessarily the same in Detroit compared to Charlotte; in Washington, D.C. (or Washington state) compared to Chicago, or for that matter, in Naples compared to Jacksonville, Florida. While many industries including publishing are now relatively globalized, construction is still very much a localized thing -- you can't move the real estate and the buildings -- so local conditions dictate opportunities and challenges.

Of course, while you can't move your market, you can move to -- or from -- markets. In the local environment in North Carolina, for example, many residential contractors are shifting to commercial work. And you can move to a market where there are opportunities -- lots of out-of-state contractors are setting up shop in North Carolina now, trying to capitalize on the opportunities there.

Are these moves wise, market-wise (and how should you best handle the marketing if a move is in the cards?)

My perceptions here are shaped by the direction my business took about eight years ago, when we first branched out beyond our Ottawa home base. Initially we set up shop in Toronto, then in (at that time a daring move), I went 'international' with a launch in Washington, D.C. Further ill-planned expansion took my business to Baltimore, Atlanta, Maine, and North Carolina. We now have a viable business in North Carolina -- the other branches have closed, at least for now.

I discovered in expanding beyond my home base:
  • Not all markets are the same; what works in one place doesn't work in another. Local culture is really important. Baltimore and Washington are a short drive from each other -- but what works in Washington doesn't work in Baltimore -- if anything the local people resent Washington-style behavior perhaps out of civic pride.

  • First impressions aren't always valid. You can scout a market, even test the water, and receive seemingly positive indicators; but you aren't getting deep enough to know the real culture and interests of the people. Markets, like individuals, can be superficially friendly but really nasty underneath the surface. Or they can seem 'aloof' until you known them better, and then they warm up to you and become your friends.

  • You may not need the trappings, but you need to be present. When I first expanded outside of home base, I thought we needed offices and admin staff -- a physical address -- in each market. Then I cut back -- too far. You don't need high overhead arrangements; your local (sales) employee can work from the home, but you need someone in the area, who is connected to and relates to the local culture and values; and you need to be able to listen to the person. Yes, you can do some things remotely -- as I will tomorrow, crafting the relevant North Carolina lead story from Canada's west coast -- but I couldn't do this without the help and guidance of Bob Kruhm in Durham, NC.
The grass isn't always greener away from home; are you running away from a problem, or running to an opportunity (or both). Consider your own values and goals in expanding. I've always been a "geographical" person; that is, someone really interested in transcending my home base; I like the idea of overseeing a multi-city and multi-national business and enjoy flying (first class, where it is possible and cheap). But there are costs: Both the direct travel expenses, the distractions, and of course risks to your family with stress and distance.

Consider the strengths and advantages local people have in their own markets, especially where relationships and connections matter. These advantages are offset of course if you have really specialized expertise and can make an effective contribution.

This leads to my final observation -- can you network through your industry groups and ties, and then form local alliances/partnerships with people who know their space; relationships founded on trust and non-competition? How do you find these relationships? Business experience helps, and participating/supporting and working with industry associations on a state, national or international level certainly will bring you closer to these alliances. This is one reason why I advocate membership in the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) for non-residential contractors (along with your relevant trade speciality organization) and for residential builders, your local home builders' association, affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders or the Canadian Home Builders' Association.

So, if it is in your heart to expand geographically, go ahead. Just remember, you need to proceed with caution and prudence, and you'll probably make some false steps and mistakes, as I did in my initial foray beyond my home base.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Not? Closing the sale

This thread focuses on sales closes and processes -- but I really enjoyed this observation by "Double-A", a renovation general contractor in Arkansas.

Ya know, sometimes folks just really do need some time to think about it.
Really. No, I'm not kidding. Granted that you haven't finished the sale if you walk away without a signature, and yes, you have possibly wasted some time, but, that is part of the job. Anyone with a 100% closure rate is selling ice cream for smiles to kids. Sometimes not overcoming their objection is exactly what you need to do in order to overcome their objection.
Well said.

Tragedy and hope -- the larger perspective

This image is from an article on business perspective in the blog Slow Leadership -- Articles on Returning Humanity to Working Life.

Yesterday I went with Vivian to a funeral -- for a nine year old boy. We knew the boy and his parents; Eric became his friend before the family received a transfer to the Philippines (his mother is employed with the Canadian foreign service). The child died naturally of a brain aneurysm, the underlying problem appears to have been from birth; the parents had the horrible task of getting the body home a half way around the world; challenging Jewish funeral rituals which call for the funeral and burial to be as soon as possible after death.

After the funeral I went to exercise -- I now work out five days a week; with commuting and so on, this exercise time costs me more than 20 days a year; but the payback is apparent -- despite a family history of diabetes, when staff at the drugstore within our local supermarket administered a computer-aided evaluation, my "health" age came up as 51 (though I am actually 54).

And in the evening, after a hockey practice, I took my son, and four of his nine and 10-year-old hockey playing friends, to a junior hockey game using box tickets gifted to me by Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association Renovations Council chair Michael Martin. We laughed, consumed some pizza and soft drinks, and enjoyed a true"boy's night out".

Work? Where does business fit into all of this? I'll certainly be happy here to provide a positive reference for Michael Martin's business, Michael J. Martin Luxury Renovations. (Evidence of the power of gifting sporting tickets is here; and I respect that our relationship with Michael's business has been that of a supplier rather than client.) But there is a broader point; our businesses are only a part of our lives, and we need always to keep things in perspective. Only a few of us will have the misfortune of having to bury our child; but many will see marriages fail, avoidable health problems, and premature death. And others may, in the name of 'working for the business' lose that essential time for fun and family.

We cannot do much if anything about the hand of fortune or G-d. Living with healthy values of course we'll obtain support when we need it; I'm satisfied the unfortunate parents at the funeral know their community is with them in their grief, and the eulogies and remembrances at the funeral reinforced their lack of responsibility for the sad event which occurred in their family.

But we can do something about how we live our lives. Yesterday evening, after I returned home from the hockey game and had a chance to catch up on my work, I reviewed the financial/sales reports for the month (satisfactory if not overwhelming), and communications and reports from our employees during the day. The individuals in this business are 'getting it' -- they are innovating within their areas of responsibility, thinking creatively, responding to opportunity, respecting their clients, and communicating effectively with each other. The result: Our brand image is improving, and the business is growing. (And if anyone thinks I am doing the heavy lifting here, you are missing the point -- I'll certainly contribute my experience and guidance to the process; and do my best to select the right people to work in the organization -- but the employees themselves have the responsibility to get it right, and enjoy the rewards of work satisfaction and financial compensation.

The world is not perfect; bad things sometimes happen to good people, and your own business may be struggling under the weight of recessionary pressure. There are things we cannot change; but we all still have a responsibility to respect ourselves and others; including our health, personal relationships, and business integrity. Then, maybe, we'll find some element of real and lasting success and happiness.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The last impression

Aha, look at this blog entry by marketing guru Seth Godin.

Here is evidence that how you leave a job is probably more important from a marketing perspective than how you get it.

The weekly meetings

This image is from the new Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCC) website. CCC is our primary business consultant.
Our business has two weekly regular meetings. On Monday, right after lunch, we bring everyone together (remote employees participate by teleconference) for a weekly general meeting. On Thursday afternoon, near the end of the day, our salespeople gather to review progress and plan for the weeks ahead.

These meetings are now routine. But they are a crucial element in the business turn-around, since consultant Bill Caswell began working with us a little less than two years ago. He showed me that regular meetings are vital for business success and he outlined a meeting system and format that has proven reliable and effective in practice.

Meetings, for many people, are the bane of business. Overly long, boring, packed with irrelevant material and political posturing, many of us want to avoid them. In fact, I did, to the point that our business in its original incarnation had no regular meetings -- we would sometimes gather for a special crisis or to discuss a specific topic/issue, but the idea of getting together every week -- let alone twice a week -- seemed an utter waste of time and resources.

Caswell, however, showed me that meetings are vital to integrate staff, generate ideas, and catch problems before they get out of hand.

Caswell's meeting system includes these elements:
  • Before any meeting, everyone receives an agenda. Participants are invited to add topics and suggest revisions;
  • Regular meetings never last more than one hour (and the agenda is defined accordingly). If more complex issues need to be resolved with another meeting, this is set up within the framework of the general meeting -- in practice, this happens rarely;
  • Everyone is given the opportunity to speak/participate, and order is maintained through a speaking order system initiated at the beginning.
  • Minutes are taken, recorded, and returned after each meeting;
  • A written action plan outlining clear responsibilities and time lines is appended to each week's meeting agenda; one of the topics of each meeting is to review the plan and suggest/respond to changes.
  • Meetings start and end on time (or sooner, if possible). We avoid interruptions and distractions.
When we started the meetings, our biggest challenge proved to be establishing a reliable teleconferencing capacity so we could hear each other and remote participants could join in as equals. While the teleconference system we use is not perfect (and I won't endorse it publicly, therefore), everyone is able to join in and participate, including myself, when I am traveling. Thus we rarely cancel or reschedule the weekly meetings. They are a vital part of our business.

If you have unproductive meetings, or don't have a systematic meeting system, I recommend you call Bill Caswell and pay for his advice.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Balance in business

The Business Development Bank of Canada, which provides some services similar to the U.S. Small Business Administration, provides some basic resources on the web, including this article about Cash Flow Management. I'm not overly sold on relying on these agencies for business/managerial advice and support -- my best advisers have been experienced, successful business people whom I've learned to respect and trust.

It's 6 a.m. and I'm musing on the essence of successful business management. After close to two decades as a publisher (and that means surviving some recessions, most recently an internally generated one), I'm still amazed at the daily excitement, complexity and challenges in keeping it all together.

At this stage, we need to manage creativity and growth with cash flow control. Our systems are pretty good and simple, but this month, for example, I'm noticing the percentage of receivables heading past 30 days is too high -- and it explains the reason we don't have the cash in the bank we should. Now, I need to look at the sales projections, upcoming costs, and available resources and decide how to manage the growth -- especially since we've decided to hire a new employee who starts Feb. 1 (and will of course need to be paid on the regular payday mid-month.)

My mind analyzes: Why are the receivables collecting slower than normal? Could it be a shift in the economy -- the dreaded "R" word? Not likely, at least as far as I can tell in our existing markets.

Probably it is the seasonal shift -- things always slow down in January. Or it could be that our Accounts Payable person (collector) who comes in on Fridays part time, had a couple of weeks off ill and for Christmas break. I know the matter is important and am keeping an eye on things.

This is just one thing to watch: Innovations from our sales team; performance standards, editorial quality and writing, administrative and office systems, product development, community group and client relationships, the website development, and more, all have to be co-ordinated like a symphony orchestra conductor. Of course the whole thing works because we've assembled talented individuals into a team; each with different skills and strengths, but each well above the 'norm' for their area of expertise (and certainly better at what they do than I would ever be.)

Building a successful business is like that --you need to connect many things together to make it work. Most intriguingly, and in part the purpose of this blog, you need to integrate your marketing process throughout the business/client relations cycle. Sure, you can set up systems for canvassing, cold calling, and the like, and many of them work (see this thread describing successful canvassing approaches), but in my opinion, you will achieve the highest results if you think longer-term and in the context of giving rather than irritating your community, as Seth Godin advocates, or patiently building lasting networks within the AEC Sector, as Ford Harding suggests.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Publicity, networking and branding

The SMPS Marketer is just one of many benefits of The Society for Marketing Professional Services -- if you are responsible for marketing for the architectural, engineering and construction sectors, membership is a 'must' especially if you are in one of many U.S. cities with local SMPS chapters.

This is a posting about multi-faceted and multi-purpose communicating and marketing. I'm writing it to show you can multi-source a single marketing initiative and leverage it far beyond the initial obvious objective.

We'll start at the beginning. Last fall, noticing the trend to Social Networking sites, I proposed an article on the topic to SMPS Marketer editor Randy Pollock. Pollock accepted the idea -- and went a step further, he invited me to participate with about 12 others on the SMPS Marketer Editorial Committee.

I began researching the article, achieving direct and immediate communication with several of the best established AEC marketing experts in the U.S. They are quoted in the article. I also communicated with younger people, rising stars, and the like. The result is, I think, a pretty good piece of writing.

Today, on learning that Chase had set up a Facebook page for The GTA Construction Report, I decided to send out an email note to our Canadian readers telling them about the innovation. In it, I also offered readers a copy of the draft SMPS Marketer article about Social Networking. By day's end, seven or eight people had requested the article -- each clearly identifying who they are, and several, relevant prospects for our business. I of course sent them the article -- and forwarded their names to the relevant sales representatives. (Marketing is largely about lead generation for the sales team, of course).

But there's more. While I now have the PDF advance file of the article, it hasn't been printed yet. In a few weeks, however, some 6,500 SMPS members in the U.S. will see it -- and my name, email address, and business description. Nothing like effective branding, eh.

I realize this is bragging, but hope you can see a productive example which you can apply in your own business. When you are reaching out for new clients, when you are seeking to expand and develop your business, a mixture of generosity and efficiency go a long way. I'm freely sharing the article -- and more to come -- without expecting compensation, and you won't find any 'sales pitch' for our services within its pages.

Consider your own areas of expertise; and how you can share your knowledge and insights. Can you write a newsletter, or contribute articles to your community newspaper, or provide useful, unbiased and straightforward advice and tips on your website? You may find one article, one piece of writing, can be multi-purposed five or six times -- and, if all goes the way it should, generate meaningful and useful sales leads for your business.

On Facebook

Chase has set up a Facebook page for The GTA Construction Report and we'll soon have pages in place for our other publications. I've written before about social networking sites including Facebook and -- my article on the topic is due to be published in the upcoming issue of The SMPS Marketer -- and learned the consensus is that while the sites are presently useful in connecting with younger people, they are not a substitute for other forms of communication if you wish to reach decision-makers in the industry.

However, I believe these resources will become increasingly important within the next couple of years so, if you haven't explored the sites, I recommend you spend a little time there. Just don't drop your other marketing approaches yet.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Footbridge Media bats 1000

You can't buy positive publicity like Footbridge Media is receiving on and here. You have to earn it by delivering the goods.

This thread relating to Footbridge Media is interesting on two levels. First, of course, is the amazingly effective power of postiive testimonials through Internet forums. No cost to Footbridge for this publicity, of course, but high value -- from the referral element, good will, validation, and more. Note also the element of exclusivity that helps to create demand from new clients (and validates the relationship with existing customers).

You could never purchase this kind of publicity with advertising -- so how do you get it?

First, and obviously most importantly, you have to earn it by deserving it. Deliver exemplary, "wow" service to your clients, and they will respond positively. Can you encourage your clients to spread the word about you? Yes, but with caution. I'm pretty sure that if Nathan at found there was an organized campaign to plant postings in his forums he would grow livid -- and yank the thread -- because, after all, he earns income from advertising revenue and "free ads" are not what his forum is about. In other words, if your clients are truly expressing joy with your service to the extent they wish to spread the good word, you probably could help them along, but if you try too hard, you will end up in the sandbox.

So, then, what is the second point in this posting? I've always advocated Internet marketing, good websites, and useful and practical resources to support your work -- even though I haven't used Footbridge myself, it looks like they have it right, and you might wish to consider their services. (How's that for some more free positive publicity for them!)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Some thoughts about integrity

How do you measure integrity?

I suppose a quick answer might be: "What do your peers and clients think of you?" But what about the contractor who pays, religiously, nine tenths of his suppliers on time and without dispute, but stiffs the lone guy on the bottom, the one he knows doesn't have the resources for protracted litigation, and then finds some (legitimate) excuse for non-payment. Do the arithmetic: Even allowing for legal costs and a settlement for part of the moneys owed, the contractor has saved perhaps five per cent of his budget -- and that can go a long way to profitability.

Does this stuff happen? Certainly. Does it get worse in recessions? Absolutely. Desperate and ill-informed start-up businesses are usually the best sucker bait for this kind of scam. In many cases, the scammer is either a psychopath who doesn't care, or simply extends his moral relativism a little further than most of us would dare (and yet, when push comes to shove, I'm sure many of us would do our own ill deeds under the right circumstances.)

In one, unique case in Ottawa, industry insiders got so fed up with one general contractor playing these games that they forced his business into bankruptcy -- against his will. This resulted in something very rare, a bankruptcy trial, with witnesses arguing the business was insolvent, while the owners claimed indeed it was viable. Things got really interesting when the bankrupt sent me a letter that would under normal conditions be considered libelous. I read it to the person he had libeled. "Print it," the person he libeled said. "This letter just shows everyone what we are dealing with". One of the major witnesses, by the way, later managed to pull his business in -- and out -- of bankruptcy three times -- and he still controls and runs his enterprise. Evidence of integrity, I suppose, along with a very thick skin for business.

So, as things head south in the marketplace, we'll see some strange, disturbing things happen. Well run businesses suddenly will find their major customer has gone bust -- either because things simply went bad or simply so that the owner could build a mansion in Florida with the purloined assets. Skilled and talented managers will suddenly lose their jobs, and start up their own companies, on the cheap, underbidding established players and sometimes winning the business (and sometimes experiencing victim hood at the hands of swindlers). In our own business, we'll find clients knocking on our doors, signing sizable advertising contracts, and then, (surprise, surprise) not paying their bills. (After all, if you know you are about to go down, why not advertise -- pull some cash in -- and then file the legal papers.)

If this blog entry is somewhat disturbing to you, good, I intended it that way. Those of us who have lived through (and survived) hard times in the past have pretty thick skins, and relatively reliable radar-scopes for cons and scams. But not everyone reading these posts has been through the experience of a real, lasting, and painful recession -- it's been a while. So I'm spending some time giving you the warning signs, and some simple and easy-to-understand advice.

  • If you are a subcontractor, and are not currently a member of the American Subcontractors Association, join their local chapter. You'll gain incredibly useful insights into business practices and share early warning information about client-no-pay dangers. Its worth the dues.

  • Do you have top notch lawyers and accountants on your side? If not, please find some -- you will probably need them. Make sure your employment contracts are in order, and understand the specific challenges in dismissing older or ill employees even if you are simply asking them to leave because they are not productive and are far too expensive.

  • When clients become fewer and harder to find, you need to rethink your marketing; you must define your objectives and seek opportunities in effective and practical ways. If you are in our market areas and wish us to work with you, we'll help you craft some unique and effective solutions. (You'll pay us with some advertising purchases; the ads themselves -- while 100 per cent of our fee -- will only be a part of the solution.)

  • Read, participate, interact, and contribute to blogs and forums like this -- the beauty of the Internet is that you can build an instant network of reliable contacts and connections, often in markets far from your home base (and certainly away from your competitors.)
Finally, trust your intuition, your sixth sense, and your instincts. If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. But you will also sense when things are going well, and when they are turning for the better. And, eventually, they will.

Obtaining real value

"Value" is both subjective and objective. It is subjective in that it represents the worth in what you and/or your client see in the worth you do. It is objective in that it can be measured, often in tangible ways. But it is not consistent in all situations/circumstances, and sometimes when value is compared to price, all (apparent) logic goes out the window.
We , for example, preach that you should sell value rather than price. But if you are going to sell value, you need to show it is there before you get your price. And if you try too many tricks or techniques, too early -- before your brand is established -- you risk losing the game.
For example, the representative of a business we are considering using to redesign our websites emailed me this weekend to say the project we have in mind is a large application, and he proposed a meeting with all people necessary present, to gather information to develop a full-blown proposal. The fee: $450. Even though this is just what Sonny Lykos (and I) think makes sense for larger renovation projects, I balked. No way am I ready -- at least just yet -- to lock myself into doing business with these guys. They haven't done enough of their homework to build their brand with me, yet.
I responded, "Please provide me with a ballpark estimate of costs". Not some vague hourly thing (they have done that already), but a general estimation of how much time/money will be required. Not a full blown proposal, of course. But I want to see if they are in the range of reasonable. And how do I know the range of reasonable? I engaged the services of a consultant -- without competitive bidding, but based on t he referral of someone I trust -- who drew up the road map for the proposed site and, with the fee paid, gave me time lines for design and coding to achieve the site objectives. I trust the consultant because he is not bidding on the final project, nor pushing any particular developer to complete it. In other words, he has every reason to be objective in his interpretations and recommendations.
The website developers I've met (through a sales rep who originally applied to work for our company as an employee), have shown me they are probably competent to do the work, but they haven't yet proven to me that they will indeed deliver the best value. In the email to me this weekend, their sales rep outlined some of the uncertainties which, he said, makes it impossible for them to produce a firm quote. I responded to his specific points, noting areas of potential variance, and said "give me the ballpark price". If he doesn't respond quickly, and resolve my concerns, he will indeed prove to me that I should go into the open market and find the best price. And I will.
P.S. As I wrote this blog entry, my consultant provided me with detailed observations about how any remaining uncertainties can be resolved -- within the original consulting fees I am paying. (The consultant, in this situation, has established his brand value!)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Value is relative (2)

Sonny Lykos has posted an observation on the thread he started Value Is Relative on JLC Online.

One last thing, I emailed a friend that my reason for creating this thread was a test to obtain both the attitude and aptitude of my peers here, so one could understand that after 171 "views" only three people have made posts, is surprising to me, considering the importance of this issue.If one does not how to interact with potential customers how does s/he expect to sell to them and as importantly, with higher margins - the purpose of business. Those 3 people making comments represent less than 2% of the views, maybe 4-5 % if some of the views were from the same people. (Ed: Actually the number should be 1 per cent -- which is what I understand to be the normal comment level for any blog.) I view these forums and their threads, equivalent to college courses. Each one represents tremendous experience gleaned knowledge. And no one learns much by being a passive student just taking up seat space. Learning is about the exchange of knowledge and opinions, and yes even what some consider to be stupid questions. I've never thought of any question being stupid. In fact, I used to tell my employees that I've rather spend the time asking what they perceived to be a stupid question, than pay the price of the result of it never being asked. Think about that as and own attitude toward your own employees,, or customers for that matter.
Sonny is right in that interaction and participation increase the learning power and effectiveness. Only a small percentage of Internet forum/blog readers participate through thread contributions and comments -- even though one of the most powerful advantages of the Internet is that response and participation allow two-way communication.

The site/forum has lots of interesting material on selling and sales training/management. Since it isn't specifically focused on construction, I won't permalink it, but keyword searches took me a few interesting places, including the plaintive observations of someone responsible for a leads service in North Dakota telling how he is unable attract salespeople to follow his 'system'.

Incidentally, I learned about this site from an anonymous comment to an earlier posting. Blog comments, in certain circumstances, can be one of the least expensive in time/reward/cost for marketing.

Value is relative

Consider this posting from Sonny Lykos on JLC Online, Value is Relative.
After Sonny posted his thoughts, he emailed me:

From: Sonny Lykos [] Sent: January 19, 2008
11:15 PM To: Mark Buckshon

Subject: A Test
Tonight I created a new thread on the JLC Business Strategies forum.
It's entitled "Value is Relative." It is a test to me to see the general attitude (and aptitude) of my peers there about this subject.

Do you get it?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Getting real

This image is from a Vancouver, B.C. restaurant marketing blog posting -- Hard Times On Cambie -- that deals with the crisis local restaurants are facing as their street is dug up for a major urban transit/infrastructure project there. Yes, success in our business can, at times, create hard times for others. Do we care, and show respect for others affected by our business and work?

Hard times are approaching. Whether this will be a brief 'blip' or a multi-year affair (like the one of the early 90s) is hard to predict, but we are going to see some pain in the marketplace. I've previously blogged that if you are really good at what you do, you will come through this period in better shape than when you started. There are no guarantees. In general, if you are of good integrity and use your brains, you'll be okay -- but there are plenty of stories of tragedy striking people who get it right but have some really bad luck (ironically, however, even these victims usually rebound quite well once they get over their grief and temporary distress.)

With that preamble, we can safely say we'll find readers of this blog in two groups: Those of us who have been in business and survived previous recessions, and those of us who haven't. Obviously, the difference is (here) purely -- age. The older we are, the more recessions we've experienced. There is something about older people being wiser. Like any truism, it isn't always right. Many older people are senile.

Putting things in perspective, the Great Depression of the 30s lasted a decade. No one knew when it would end. Many people were starting to call the multi-year recession in the early 90s a depression. A decade seems a long time when you are 20. It is less when you are 60 -- though I'm sure most people who are 60 would rather be 20. Back in 1995, just as the 90s recession neared its end, the late Walt Hailey told me (and about 30 others), we would soon enter a period of unprecedented prosperity, followed by the worst recession/depression in 60 years. The reason: the baby boomers would be entering their retirement years; pulling money out of investments, and hunkering down -- destroying the economy. Of course Hailey could not have foreseen the scale of the technological revolution; and the rise of middle class communities and wealth in India and China. Nor could he have foreseen the new values regarding 'retirement', the skilled labour shortage, and the like. These days, intelligent older boomers don't retire -- unless you want to die young, this is the dumbest thing you could do, (generally).

Nevertheless, in most markets, if you are in the construction business, right now you are in one of two camps. Hard-rock residential construction, renovation, and the like is in crisis -- because of the stupidity and speculative excesses of the past few years. The commercial, institutional and infrastructure side of the business isn't doing so bad. This is (a) because these projects have a longer lead time and so aren't as immediately affected by a consumer confidence crisis and (b) because there is an urgent and serious infrastructure backlog problem. Think of bridges collapsing and the like.

Now you need to make some hard decisions if you wish to survive. If you are doing residential work and are being hammered, (bad pun, I know), you might be tempted to do these things:

  • Start bidding commercial work;
  • Spend a pile on advertising, hoping some customers will come along;
  • Cut to the bone, so that your best employees leave to start their own businesses, and your worst (the ones you fired out of economic desperation) rush to t heir lawyers and slap you with an anti-discrimination lawsuit. (They are old, they are sick, they a re disabled, you can't fire them . . . )
Or you might do these things:

  • Make sure your legal, accounting and financial systems are sturdy -- when it is time to let people go, you know what your rights are, and you've covered yourself from potential litigation.
  • You think and plan diversification thoughtfully -- perhaps commercial work is the way to go; maybe maintenance and small projects; regardless, your approach is measured and careful;
  • You think of marketing in a holistic sense -- giving most of your thought to your existing and former clients, and communicating to new clients (often truly referred from former ones) that you are truly the right business for them. You have a great brand.
Now, outside of general understanding and in some cases the ability to refer you to the right person for guidance, I am not qualified to help you directly in most of the "do" things. And the only consulting service I offer right now where I charge a fee is for our (sales) employee hiring system.

When it comes to advertising, branding and marketing, we'll sell you advertising in our regional construction industry publications. You can purchase these ads in the "spend a pile on advertising and hope it works" manner, or if you prefer, spend the money and work with us on the bigger picture. We'll suggest inexpensive and effective options -- and put your interests first.
Do these approaches work? Well, our decisions taken a year ago in handling certain projects are coming together today. Beyond the profitable spin-off sales from our successful integrated and forward thinking approach then, we aren't really stressing for the repeat business: Brief phone conversations and emails are all we need to put the pieces together. (Yes, I'm bragging -- and this is not the time or place to name the specific clients.)

My point is this: As the hard times dig in, you of course need to respond to current circumstances, but you need to think forward -- you must not delay the necessary steps to bring your business in balance; yet, even as you do what you need to do, you need to strategically plan and implement a careful, well thought and client-centred marketing strategy. (And if you've read my blog, you know I am not encouraging you to focus on logos, advertising and the like -- but on the overall client experience and how you can systematically connect that experience to your sales process.)

You can, and will, succeed if you take care and think ahead.

Branding and spirit

Geoffrey James in a posting takes a pot shot at Xerox's logo rebranding, questioning the resources for this initiative. He is partly right -- if you are a smaller business, you don't want to be wasting money on this stuff -- especially since logos and things are only a small part of the branding process. Of course, if you are Xerox, you can sell your brand license for a good profit!

How many times do I need to repeat this: Branding is not advertising, logos, slick presentations, and gimmicks. It is your relationship with your current, former, and potential clients -- and how they perceive you; whether positive or negative (or, for that matter, whether they know you are there.)

So when I see crap out there I get a little angry. Here is an posting from someone purporting to be an expert on the topic (I won't publish any real names here because I don't believe in attacking individuals with negative observations in this blog -- part of my own branding philosophy):
The moving agenda of corporate world is now brand. The company's goal and market targeting activities are revealed through this. It is the key to the success of corporate companies. The value of company is reflected through brand. Brands are no longer accessed on the basis of performance, whether functional, financial or emotional. It should be used to reflect company's ambitions, characteristics and personality which will ultimately provide visibility and notoriety.
Apart from anything the main importance of a logo is to create a visual identity rather better to say to create the persona of a company. Color plays a vital role in creating logo. Color should be used to label or show hierarchy, to represent or imitate reality to unify separate or emphasize to decorate. Secondary or supporting colors can be used to harmonize our main color palate. Supporting colors are used to keep the design fresh and forward looking. A harmonious effect should be created through the color used in logo, it should be unique versatile and functional. Few balances should be maintained while creating it, a balance between color, shape, and position is very essential. Symmetrical balance, asymmetrical balance and radial symmetrical balance should be maintained also.

If you understand what this means, you are definitely in another place (planet)? But there are other equally absurd examples of waste/misconceptions regarding branding.

You'll enjoy, for example this BNet blog entry from Geoffrey James where he takes a pot shot at the new logo/branding claims from Xerox. However, I think he is being a bit hard on Xerox here -- when you are a multi-billion dollar corporation, it makes sense to care about things like the logo; just as it makes sense for McDonald's to perhaps have a staffer dedicated to how to handle the vinegar in its condiment packets. A fraction of a cent savings or a slight addition to the taste satisfaction on this seemingly minor item, multiplied over thousands of locations, probably would more than recover the cost/effort of a small team of full time staffers -- but you don't want to be doing this stuff if you are a small business!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Untold (good) stories

Dr. Shahzad Khan, director at and BECC Construction Group Ltd's Zulq Malik at Khan's new medical service facility in Markham, Ontario.
Yesterday, I soared among eagles. The exhilaration of sharing hours with bright people who know what they are doing, and conduct their business with down-to-earth integrity, is something to savor -- and repeat wherever possible. With my southern Ontario representative Chase, along with Zluq Malik, president of BECC Construction Group Ltd., Dr. Sharhzad Khan, at (Blu Skye), and Michael Porter and Fred Thoms at Porter Airlines, I learned about the airline business, innovative and entrepreneurial medical practice (which complies with Canada's public health insurance system), integrity, and competence.

Their best stories unfortunately I cannot share publicly -- they related to the interfaces between the competent and less-than-competent, and the resulting consequences: Delays, bad will, litigation, and waste.

In spontaneous conversations, we explored the difference between entrepreneurs who build their businesses with integrity and a long range vision, against the scammers who live for the moment, and seek to screw every cent they can out of the other guys. Our conclusion, business people who 'get it' can sniff out the crooks and phonies pretty quickly; we get burned from time to time, but ultimately clients, suppliers, and peers want to keep doing business with us. Success, we realize, is not all about material trappings -- expensive cars, over sized homes, luxury vacations; 'stuff' does not make the world meaningful -- we can look at the tragedies of people with poor health, failed relationships, and poverty of spirit to see they are not the stories we wish to experience.

(It is a little frustrating that I cannot share the best stories here; the ground-rules in writing these advertising features is the clients must review and approve copy before publication, and in exchange they speak with me freely and without inhibition. And I have enough common sense to respect their confidences.)

What does this have to do with marketing? Everything -- because, as I seek to impress here -- marketing is all about the stuff behind the scenes as much as it is the businesses public presentation. Sure, BECC's Zulq Malik is unabashed in asking his subs and suppliers to help contribute to the costs of the marketing piece we are writing -- but he relates to them with respect, on an equal footing, and seeks to ensure they do well in their business (and since Zulq's business is growing, it makes real sense for the sub to support his marketing process.)

And when I told Michael Deluce about an irritating (but for most people, invisible) flaw in Porter's reservation computer system, he didn't brush the matter off -- he determined to find out and fix the problem.

In the end, you can gloss over the real situation, and try to paper over your image with a public persona -- and you might even get away with it. But if your business heart and soul is founded on innovation, integrity and intelligence, great marketing will propel you forward to higher levels -- and not cost you much money at all.