Business Networking and Surviving Slow Times

Cabinetmakers discuss ways to market your company during down times. January 13, 2009

It has been a real slow summer here in south Florida and I just laid off my only employee. I will be going door to door in some of the better areas tomorrow to distribute flyers, as I have nothing else to do. In the middle of a new website revision and better SEO and have tried many other avenues. Any cabinetmakers on the Gulf Coast that need me to produce for them? All advice is welcome.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor T:
Here's an idea that I think would be a good program for my company to implement. I think it would work for you too. I want to create a rolling tune-up team. This would be a 4 hour effort once or twice a month going out to former customers and letting them know we're here to give their kitchen a once over to make sure all the doors are gapped properly, hinges are tight, everything working like it should and looking good.

If you did this a couple of times a month in a year you'd have another 24 extremely satisfied customers. The amount of buzz this would create would soon amplify. The word would soon be out that no company in south Florida cares as much about their customers as you do!

You'd get a chance to see how things held up and what you could improve for others in the future. This could be your stated goal when asking when a good time would be to show up. Some of your former customers will have at least a small project you could do right away. Some of them will also know somebody else who needs something done. This gives you a chance to re-harvest some of the good will you created the first time you worked for them.

Think of how impressed you would be if the mechanic that tuned your truck up called up a month later to see how it was running. You'd never shop anywhere else and you'd make sure nobody else did either.

From contributor B:
That sounds like a great idea.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I have been following this procedure for the 30 years I have been in business and it works well for referrals. I also have my clients give me feedback on what they would do differently if they could, and use this info to update my experience. This applies mostly to kitchen design and has taught me a lot. My main problem is I have only been in Florida for four years and do not have enough referrals under my belt to have a steady stream of clients. Many of my clients are snowbirds and they are gone 9 months of the year and all that cabinetry is locked away from view. They also do not have many friends. Spent today distributing a 3-fold brochure door to door and will continue this week in hope of some leads.

From contributor N:
When I was starting out, I did work for family and friends, knowing that one day I would work through the amount of work they provided. I didn't want to advertise in the yellow pages because I didn't want to answer my phone for meaningless questions all day. Print and radio and TV were too expensive, and I wondered what to do.

Then I had a friend ask me to come to a networking meeting, and I thought "this is exactly what I was looking for." Low cost, meet once a week for lunch, and I'm building relationships with people that have become my friends as well as a steady source of new work. Only one person from any category was allowed to join, so I had no competition. Things have slowed quite a bit these last two months, but I have been working through what I had on the books for that time. Because of that, I'm going to be joining the Chamber of Commerce and maybe one more meeting to expand my base. Without this networking meeting, my business would have failed. It has been a very focused way to grow my business. I receive referrals from people who are already pre-qualified, they're looking for work to be done. You never know who the "other guy" knows. Things are tough for everyone out there. In Milwaukee, there are big established shops going out of business, just closing their doors.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I joined BNI 3 months ago. No referrals yet, although I have given plenty to others. I joined the Broward Chamber and Ft. Lauderdale chamber, but these organizations require lots of evenings at happy hours and this does not fit into my family oriented lifestyle. I do not have any debts, own my condo and 160K worth of machinery and my car, and have reserves from business to keep me going, but feel bad that I have had to lay off a good man with kids to feed. I am blessed and know that things will improve soon. Hopefully my revised website and better SEO will help to draw in more clients.

From contributor T:
Can you elaborate on SEO? I'm not familiar with that expression.

From contributor N:
Stick with BNI. That is the organization that I joined and it opened up a new world of opportunities for me. I learned a lot of lessons about it, too. It takes a while to build up trust in the group. I too was anxious when I joined and gave a lot of referrals. Then some people burned me and made me look bad to my customers when I sent them to them. I learned to get to really know people before giving a referral, so maybe that's what is happening to you. Also, I've been in my group for about 2 1/2 years and have done a lot of work for the people in my group, but what we offer is not conducive to repeat business. Which is where the relationships come into play. I now have about 40 people that know me and when they hear of someone doing something, I get that referral. But it took time and doing business with people in my group to build those relationships. I also have about 3 or 4 of them that use me often, like my electrician, my interior decorator, and my plumber. We're all in construction trades, so the link is an easy one.

Don't get me wrong, things have been down for me as well, but I know that with these relationships, when things begin to turn around, I'll be on the leading edge of it. I hope we're one of the ones left standing at the end of all this. One of the best things you can do when you do your 60 second presentation is educate people. Let them know what you do, and everything you do. I just did my 10 minute speech, and I had people come up to me and say "I never knew you did that." So I guess I missed some work that I might otherwise have gotten.

From the original questioner:
SEO means search engine optimization. The more search engines you are listed with and the more keywords you use to list yourself and the more links you have to other sites that relate to yours, the longer you are in business, the age of your domain name, as well as embedded words in your website, the more people will find you. Try typing "custom cabinets broward county" or Ft. Lauderdale and I am always on the front page. Same thing with Kosher kitchens, or eco-friendly cabinets.

I just gave my 10 minute presentation last week with a full slide show of my work and I bring a different door or wood sample each week that I hold up as I give my 35 second commercial (we are 55 people in our group). I know it takes time and I am considering it a long term investment. Thanks for all the advice.