We had a great honor bestowed upon us last week. We were named the Small Business of the Year by the Davis County Chamber of Commerce. We were so excited when they named us as a finalist, but we assumed we wouldn’t win among the other two other highly deserving honorees. Then, at the awards banquet, they announced our name and that we had won. We were ecstatic, and honestly, also in a bit of shock. We know we love what we do and think we do it well, but it is so nice when someone else thinks that too.
This award would not have been possible without one of our key employees, Danielle Arana. When she first started working for us, I asked her to get involved in the community, and get to know everyone—I asked Danielle to go to the chamber and volunteer on committees. Luckily, she is not shy and she did exactly that. She became a well-known person at the chamber and made many friends. She didn’t force herself into sales situations with people; she genuinely put herself out there to make friends and to serve those around her. She serves on the Women in Business committee and helps with other things as well.
If you know me, I’m shyer than I probably seem. I would much rather stay away from crowds, but I know it takes people to be successful so I put on a smile and go meet people. If you are similarly shy, just insert yourself where you can, and serve others before asking what they can do for you. As part of the awards ceremony, Steve Peterson of Adams, Peterson CPAs won the Lifetime Service Award. After serving in the Chamber for over 20 years, he’s done so much for the chamber that had nothing to do with growing his business. However, he was simultaneously able to become well-known and now owns one of the largest CPA firms in the area, the two are connected, it is not a coincidence.
Not only did Danielle get involved, but I also started doing reachouts in the area to speak, attend networking meetings and events, and overall, help the community become more aware of our company and brand. A year ago, I started a podcast interviewing local business owners. I started this blog to write about marketing and to share stories about local businesses. I have attempted to grow our company by becoming more well-known and more impactful in the community. Each of these efforts put our brand more at the top of mind for many of our clients and potential clients.
All of the effort we have put in, working and serving in the community over the past 7 years, and then, in more focused efforts over the last year-and-a-half paid off. WE WON!! Such an honor, and we are so grateful.
BNI, the world's largest business networking organization has a motto; “Giver’s Gain.” They teach that you should serve and be friendly first before asking for anything. This is hard for most business owners to do. They want to make sales and have people fall over themselves to do business with them. That just isn’t how people work. It takes time to build relationships and become a trusted person in your industry and community. People who join networking groups intending to get quick sales don’t last very long. Those who join to be part of something for the long haul get the most out of their efforts.
A good friend of mine recently told me that he joined a BNI group over 6 years ago, and this year he has done $165,000 in business from referrals from that group. That is amazing, but it wasn’t like that year one. It took time.
I don’t know the psychological terms for this, but it's the same in marketing. The first message you send out will be less effective than the 10th. It takes time to capture people's attention and to get your message in front of them at the right time and in the right way. It also takes repetition because people don’t always remember everything they see.
Like advertising, networking needs time to gain people's trust. To catch them at that moment when they might be interested enough to make a phone call or visit your website. It takes time before someone knows you enough to refer their mom, sister, friend, or business associate to you. It also takes trust. They want to know that you won't rip them off, that you will fulfill your promises, and offer a good product or service. So, the key is to go in with the BNI motto in mind, to give first and expect nothing in return.
Here are ways you can give back and network effectively:
Free Advice: Never shove advice down anyone's throat, but offer it for free to anyone. This will build trust among people, assuring them that you aren’t just out to get their money. No one likes to be sold, but most of us love to spend money on things we want.
Volunteer: This is crucial. Find places where you can give back, and also meet people. Local Chambers of Commerce are a great place to start. I serve on the Small Business Development committee and have employees on several other committees. I and one of our employees also serve on the board of the local United Way chapter. I have met some amazing people on this board. I am also part of two additional business networking groups, smaller local chambers. I also have employees in 3 different BNI groups, plus the chambers of commerce. We put ourselves out there, making friends and new contacts. This makes a big difference.
Visibility: I’ve given speeches for free on many occasions. Each time I speak, I give as much value as I can with no worry about getting something back from it. We still go out and ask for business all the time, but when I am in front of a group, I don’t worry if it is going to pay off, or if someone is going to steal my info. In fact, I have gone to networking events where a competing marketer will quote some of the teachings I have given almost verbatim. It’s actually an honor because that means what I said resonated with someone, even a competitor. Plus, I can guarantee that I use things I hear from experts I follow. It also helps to talk about what you do on social media. If someone is curious about you, there should be a place where they can find out what is important to you.
Promote Others: When you partner with someone or do something to selflessly help someone it will come back to you. It’s easy to say, I should go do something for this person or business because they could refer business to me. Those types of relationships are great, but you should serve even those who are not in alignment with your business. Everyone has friends, relatives, and acquaintances that they can refer to you. Partner up to help other businesses, and promote other businesses. It may seem counterintuitive, but it will work. Try it for a year, and see what happens. Better yet, try it for 3 years, and see what happens. When you have a local business, you should get to know and serve as many people as you can in that community.
There are a couple of levels to this. But first, make sure you know your standards. For me, integrity is key. I make decisions that ensure my integrity is honored. Sometimes this hurts. We had a client this year who had a Roof Maxx treatment, and a windstorm came in and ripped half of their roof off. This was outside of our control but it can happen, which is why there is insurance. Roof Maxx can help roofs outlast something like that, but for some reason, it didn’t. As I talked to my son, he confided that this roof was on the edge of being too far past the point of saving. He said he probably shouldn’t have treated the roof. It was when he was new and wanted to make a sale, so he went ahead with the treatment. Well, it came back to bite us in the butt. Eventually, we decided we had made an error in treating the roof, so we gave a refund. That was hard. It cost us quite a bit of money, but it was the right thing to do. Our reputation is worth more than a few thousand dollars. I have also had to give refunds when a couple thousand dollars was more than I could afford. That is even harder, but again, our reputation is more important than money. People are more important than money. Your reputation will be remembered more than your skills. Treat people like you want to be treated.
The second aspect of reputation management is to pay attention to your online reputation. Google is putting more emphasis on online reviews for SEO. They not only want to see that you have a good reputation, but people and Google also want to see that you have recent reviews. If you don’t you will be passed up by someone who has more recent reviews. Connection Media Co. now offers reputation management services as a provider of Birdeye software (Find out more here). But, even if you don’t hire this part out, you must be aware of your reviews, and you should respond to all of them. If it’s good, say thank you. If it isn’t, talk through it. I hear from people all the time who got a one-star review because of mistaken identity. In that case, you can always respond with something like: “I looked through our records because I wanted to make things right with you, but I don’t have any record of doing business with you. Do you possibly have the wrong company? Would the customer name be different than your profile? Please let us know because we want to take good care of all of our customers.” Never blame, or get into a fight. You are not responding to the angry customer, you are responding to the next person who is researching you and comes across your reviews.
These ideas will help you become a well-known name in your community, a name that is trusted and respected and thus referred. It will help your local small business stand out, and help you to make relationships that last. I have quite a few good friends who I have made in my efforts to become well-known. Some have become clients. Others haven’t. That’s OK. You don’t need everyone to do business with you to succeed. Pick something to do this week, like meeting someone new, going to a business event, or volunteer. Just get out and meet some people. Put a face with your business. In the words of Professor Lupin, “Eat some chocolate, it will help, it really will!” Better yet, go find some people to share chocolate with. It will help, it really will!