Sell! Sell! Sell!

Now that you are an employer, it is time to put the shoe leather to the pavement.

By Anthony Noel

In recent issues we have discussed making the change from one-person shop to employer. It has been pointed out that adding one or more employees changes everything. Where once you were a woodworker who handled every aspect of every job, as an employer you suddenly find yourself far less involved in the day-to-day production of work.

Now you are finalizing specifications, preparing job folders, tracking labor and material costs, managing employees and vendors - and, of course, selling the work that keeps the shop humming and your employees busy. While some choose to hire a business manager to handle such tasks, it is far more common for the company's founder to assume the administrative and sales duties.

Unfortunately, something else is common. These very owners frequently change their approach to marketing and sales or, worse, fail to take any sort of meaningful approach at all. It is as if they say to themselves, "I am a manager now. All I need to do is manage the administrative tasks effectively, and the sales will come."

It's funny. These are the same owners who, as one-man operations, went out and pounded the pavement for work. Even when jobs which resulted from all that hard prospecting brought a steady flow of referrals, they would still regularly let new prospects know of their existence. While it may have been more passive than it was at first, they would nonetheless continue their sales and marketing efforts, even while producing the work they had sold.

Yet once they join the ranks of employers, these same owners often fail to redouble their sales and marketing efforts - at the very time it is most essential they do so. The lucky ones quickly learn a lesson alluded to earlier in this series: It takes a nearly full-time sales and marketing assault by one person to find sufficient work for one to two other people and keep everyone paid.

The not-so-lucky ones remain in their offices, waiting for the phone to ring. If they wait long enough, they return to being one-man operations. It happens, sadly, all the time.

To make sure it doesn't happen to you, take note of these three tips:

TIP #1: Accept that you are a salesperson, and learn how to be a good one.

This is sometimes the toughest pill for many shop owners to swallow. After all, you are a woodworker, right? Well, no, not anymore. Once you make the decision to hire shop help rather than hire a business manager, you have ipso facto appointed yourself as sales manager, too. The more quickly you accept this and the more determined you become about getting really good at marketing and sales, the more successful your shop will be.

Besides, it really isn't so bad. The trick is to take the same enthusiasm and confidence you have about your ability as a woodworker and convey it to potential customers. After all, who knows more about your products, quality and service than you do? And who can speak more intelligently and answer potential customers' questions better than you can?

TIP #2: "Mailing it in" is not an option.

Direct mail can be a wonderful thing. But if you don't follow up on it consistently, it will do you little good. For some reason, many new employers fall into this trap, thinking that if they send out enough mail, a reasonable percentage will produce orders. So they sit. And they wait. And when the phone does not ring, they sit and wait some more.

Without personal, consistent follow-up, direct mail is useless. Oh, it might work just fine for pizza shops and hair salons. But we are talking about major, custom purchases here. We are talking about asking people to spend a good chunk of their disposable income on something they could probably do without, if push came to shove. So who is most likely to get the work when it is awarded? That's right, the one who was most visible (and helpful) during the decision-making process.

Tip #3: "Phoning it in" is not an option, either.

The phone trap is another to which many owners fall prey. (Its close relatives are the e-mail trap and the voice-mail trap.)

Don't get me wrong. The phone is a marvelous weapon in the marketing wars, and it is often your most direct method of pre-qualifying firms as likely prospects for what you have to offer. But if you try to do everything by phone, you are just spinning your wheels.

Before you ever pick up the phone, do research through the Internet and the phone book to identify firms in your market area that might need the kind of work your company produces. Not end users, but design professionals, architects, general contractors and space planning companies. (Other good research resources include the local homebuilder's association and local chapters of the American Institute of Architects and American Society of Interior Designers, to name a few.)

Call each firm you identify. Assume nothing about what they do, regardless of what their Web site or newspaper or phone book ad might say. You want to hear from the horse's mouth that they do not need the kind of work you offer - and if they do need it, you of course want to hear that first-hand, too.

When you call, after giving your name and the reason you are calling, ask to speak to the owner. For example, you might say, "Hello, I'm Jack Smith, the owner of Smith Custom Woodworking. We make custom cabinetry for commercial and residential projects. I am interested in developing a relationship with your company, and I would like to set up an appointment with the owner to review our portfolio. May I speak with him, please?"

You will not always get through to this person, and that's okay. Sometimes you will get pushed off onto a project manager or the chief estimator. Both of these individuals, in most firms, have the power to give you a chance to price work. But be sure, when you succeed in getting an appointment, that you encourage them to invite the owner or other principal member of the management team to attend. And remember that an in-person appointment with a decision-maker is your primary objective.

We have all heard, at one time or another, someone referred to as "a natural born salesman." And while it may be true that some people are more sales-oriented than others, it is equally true that one's ability to sell successfully is entirely dependent upon how strongly he believes in his product. Here, custom woodworkers have a built-in advantage.

We believe, and believe strongly, in what we do. We love what we do. We enjoy providing work that solves design, function and aesthetic challenges. We should convey that to our prospective customers.

Becoming an employer provides us with the chance to get others as excited as we are about these same things, all day, every day. If we do not take advantage of that opportunity, we have only ourselves to blame.

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