If your business is operating smoothly, you may not think some of the things you do every day have contributed to your success because they seem so basic. But when you encounter a business that doesn’t do some of these fundamental things — and that business is struggling — you may discover how important simple day-to-day acts and decisions are. We asked business leaders in our industry to share with us their tips for being successful. Here is their advice.
1. Hold a Lunch-and-Learn
Architects are looking for you. They want to learn about your company and products. They want to specify you on projects, but they just don’t know about you yet.
Architects’ time is very valuable. They cannot drop everything and meet you on a whim, so visit them on their terms. Offer to hold a lunch-and-learn session. Here is how it works:
Cold call architectural firms that could potentially specify your products on projects they are designing. Give them a quick synopsis of your company and offer to do a lunch-and-learn session. They’ll know what you’re talking about.
Ask the firm where they prefer to order takeout food and what the participants would like to order. You show up with lunch. Give a short (maybe 30-minute) presentation on your company and products, answer questions and collect business cards. Be sure to leave the firm with samples and literature they can add to their library.
The turnaround time on actually getting a project out of a lunch-and-learn can be six months or longer, but the rewards of being specified on a commercial project can be great.
— Mark Celebuski, owner, Trinic LLC, Windsor, New York
2. Choose the Right Coach
When we were considering hiring a business coach, a friend counseled me to find someone specific to my industry. That was great advice! Several thousand dollars later made me wish I’d have listened. The coach we used helped us better organize our business structure but wasn’t able to help us in areas of sales or operational organization because he just didn’t understand our industry.
— Barbara Sunderlin, owner, SunWorks Etc. LLC, Annville, Pennsylvania
3. Turn to Advisers
If you find yourself running around like crazy — all the time — you’re trying to do too much yourself. It’s very possible you could make poor decisions, both short term and long term. You have to give yourself time to think, to analyze. Your employees are counting on your leadership. Change hindsight to foresight. Use a group of advisers if need be. Get away from the business for half a day with advisers on a major decision. In times of war the best generals visited the front lines. However, they didn’t run the war from there.
— Rocky R. Geans, president, L.L. Geans Construction Co., Mishawaka, Indiana
4. Don’t Be Shortsighted
You can never go wrong by always maintaining a steadfast focus on what’s in the building owner’s long-term best interest. Since installers of our types of materials are typically subcontractors, they are frequently asked to perform work in a manner contrary to project specifications, whether to achieve cost savings or due to project scheduling. Often these short-term trade-offs end up harming all parties involved. The subcontractors get hit through callbacks and damage to their reputations, and the building owners receive something less than what they paid for and deserved. It’s never easy to say no to someone who is ultimately holding the payment for your work, but agreeing to go along with shortsighted decisions will nearly always result in long-term regrets.
— Scott Metzger, president, Metzger/McGuire, Bow, New Hampshire
5. Find What Works and Stick with It
It’s tempting to constantly change things in an attempt to improve them. A good example is your concrete mix design. It’s emotionally appealing to “improve” things by adding the latest fashionable admixture or changing the mix ingredients and proportions on a continuing basis. But if you have a mix that already does what you want and doesn’t cause your clients problems, why change it? If you can’t demonstrate a real and positive change that will directly benefit your client and save you money in the long run, then don’t fall into the trap of “fixing” or “improving” something that isn’t broken and doesn’t need improving.
— Lane Mangum, vice president of business services, The Concrete Countertop Institute, Raleigh, North Carolina
6. Schedule Everything
While I was driving to Las Vegas for business (a five-hour trip) thinking about a tip I could offer, I wondered how I was in such a relaxed mood. Then it hit me. About three years ago I refocused on being organized. The most important thing to my everyday schedule is to have a schedule. I need to have everything on a calendar when possible. I even put it in my calendar to “Plan my Calendar.” I do my best not to let other people’s emergencies, become my own emergencies.
— Marc Di Zinno, architectural representative, Westcoat, San Diego, California
7. Take Pictures
Take pictures of your work — this is not something the construction world has a grip on just yet, and in the technological arena with social media still at the forefront of marketing and advertising, taking pictures of your work takes but a second and can be a great impact for your company and/or the company or product you represent. Photos can be easily downloaded and shared (with approval from the source, of course) and can be a great way to market your talent and level of expertise in your field.
— Heather Early, president, Easycove, Libertyville, Illinois
8. Make a Good First Impression
With an abundance of decorative contractors accessible to most customers, it is crucial that you give the customer every reason to like you at first glance. The initial phone call (either answering promptly or returning a message soon after) sets the tone, quickly followed up by the first site visit. Showing up in a mobile dumpster, instead of a clean and organized truck, will lower the customer’s confidence in your abilities. Finally the estimate or proposal should be thorough and professional. Respect the customer, respect the process and land more profitable projects by creating a positive first impression.
— Todd A. Scharich, decorative concrete specialist, American Society of Concrete Contractors; owner, Decorative Concrete Resources, Saginaw, Michigan
9. Agree on the Color
As a manufacturer of quality decorative concrete products, we learn so much from the installers who work with the products on a daily basis. It is everyone’s goal to ensure that customers receive the results they expect and deserve. The most difficult part is often getting the color just right. Shaded or well-lit areas can alter how a color appears.
We highly recommend that a test area always be performed on site for approval of the color, texture and pattern or design by the customer. This task isn’t always convenient or timely, but it is necessary to ensure that all parties are in agreement with the expectation of the results. Most manufacturers have trial color kits available for this purpose. Consider including one or two sample installations with your bid, and charging for any additional sample areas that may be required to achieve the desired outcome.
— Tracey J. Lackovich, president, Super-Krete, Spring Valley, California
10. Get It Right
“You can never charge enough to do a job twice. Get it right the first time.”
— Michael Todd Jones, vice president, Concrete Innovations, Sonora, California
We didn’t have room for all of the great business tips we received! Visit our website to read more tips for success from these and other business leaders.
More Top Business Tips to Help You Be Successful
We invited some business leaders and our Facebook friends to share with us their tips for running a successful business. What we considered to be the 10 best tips were printed in the July 2015 issue of Concrete Decor Magazine, which happened to be our 100th issue which we celebrated with 10 lists of 10 items to make up 100.
1. From the President’s Desk: “Improve job costing by documenting all expenses at the end of the day, to ensure accelerated cash flow and consistent immediate billings. Maintain a high level of interaction/contact with customers and prospects with follow-ups at the end of each day. Complete DONE lists to see your accomplishments for the day. Technology is a driving force for any business, review all technological implementations for the day (marketing, advertising, social media, etc.) and document trends.”
From the Field:
“Measure Twice, Cut Once. An oldie but a great reminder, especially in our line of business. Clean up. Nothing is worse then leaving your area a mess — it’s a reflection of how you do business. Clean up after yourself and you are sure to find your product on that next spec sheet.
No shortcuts. You might have a better way of doing something, but if a product requires a specific process for installation, follow the guidelines. There is nothing worse than an end-user finding an issue with your work or the product after-the fact because you took a shortcut. Manage your time accordingly and take pride in your work - the results speak for themselves.” – Heather Early, president of Easycove, Libertyville, Illinois
2. “Remember the 7 P's: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. I use this every day of my life. I refer to this because there is always an easier way to do things. I also never let my finisher edge or float on their knees. They know how to put their elbows on their knees to save their back.” – Alan Steele, owner of Steele Concrete, Ligonier, Pennsylvania
4. “Be obsessed. Show passion. When you care, the enthusiasm will come through in the people you choose to work with.” – Ryan Lakebrink, owner and operator of Custom Concrete, Washington, Missouri
5. “Do it right or don't do it at all. It doesn't pay to have to go back and do it over.” – Darrin Thornton, owner of Alternative Building Systems Inc., Medford, Oregon
6. “My advice is get it in writing.” – Chris Karlik, owner of Cemrock, Seattle, Washington
7. “Check all surrounding areas and work with other trades when applying a color with a solvent carrier. Check all electrical cords for tears or frayed areas prior to plugging them in. Plan to work and work the plan. Your smartphone is more valuable on a job for verification. Communicate and when you think it’s enough communication, double it! Communication solves all issues. Your company reputation is based on your work areas. Be neat!” – Joe Reardon, director of SASE Signature Floor Systems, Kent, Washington
8. “Don't assume anything. Just ask. Sweat the details. Every little detail is important to a client, especially with interior concrete applications such as furniture, sinks and kitchen countertops. We once had to re-do a project because the sink hole was 1/8 inch too small. We had assumed that the client wanted the undermount sink hole done just like everyone else, even though his sink looked different than any we’d seen before. That 1/8 inch cost us several thousand dollars.
Even the most knowledgeable and experienced contractor can’t keep all the myriad details needed to be successful at concrete in his head at all times, and every human being makes mistakes. Make it easy on yourself by using a printed checklist to double-check all those details. For example, if you’re packing up to travel to a job site to make a template for a concrete countertop, use a printed checklist of template materials to make sure you don’t forget anything. And, any time a mistake does occur, think about whether it could have been prevented with a checklist and if so, develop one.
Plan ahead when ordering materials.
Everyone knows that labor is the biggest cost in concrete, not materials. But there are still ways that material costs can bite you. The biggest is shipping, especially in a specialty field such as concrete countertops where many ingredients must be ordered and shipped. Plan ahead and stock up by the pallet for about six months’ worth of any supplies you must ship. The percentage savings on your materials will be significant.
Use a contract.
Contracts don’t scare off clients, and they don’t limit creativity. A clearly written contract shows you’re a professional who has thought out all of the details and is looking out for the best interest of the client. It also sets expectations in writing, and setting expectations is essential in any creative concrete field.
Find what works and stick with it.
It’s tempting to constantly change things in an attempt to improve them. A good example is your concrete mix design. It’s emotionally appealing to “improve” things by adding the latest fashionable admixture or changing the mix ingredients and proportions on a continuing basis. But if you have a mix that already does what you want and doesn’t cause your clients problems, why change it? If you can’t demonstrate a real and positive change that will directly benefit your client and save you money in the long run, then don’t fall into the trap of “fixing” or “improving” something that isn’t broken and doesn’t need improving. – Lane Mangum, vice president of business services, The Concrete Countertop Institute, Raleigh, North Carolina