Roots to Leaves: Part Three – Leaves that Attract Energy

Welcome to day three of Roots to Leaves: Small Business Growth in Trying Times. Today I’m talking about leaves!

When one looks at a tree (in season), the leaves are the first thing that get noticed (unless there’s something obviously wrong with the tree, but let’s assume our metaphorical tree and your small business are healthy and not getting noticed for the wrong reasons…). Leaves are showy. They wave in the wind and change colors with the seasons. They’re the first clue about what kind of tree we’re looking at. They’re also temporary.

The same is true for the marketing of your small business. For potential customers, marketing is probably the first thing they see of you. It’s meant to get attention and reveal your business to the world. It’s temporary and changes with the seasons. As leaves absorb sunlight to feed the tree, so your marketing brings a steady supply of new life and energy to your business.

I hear your objections – Marketing isn’t what you do. Marketing takes time and money, and you’re short on one or the other. Shouldn’t your body of work be enough?

Yes and no. Pretty leaves can’t save a diseased tree. Your quality products and service have to be the foundation. But attracting new customers is vital, and word of mouth isn’t always enough. Fortunately, there are inexpensive things you can do to keep energy flowing into your business.

Let’s start with the internet and social media, because it can be overwhelming, and it seems like it’s always changing. But there’s good news – You don’t have to do everything! In fact, you shouldn’t. Pick social media platforms that work for you and your business and do those well. Different platforms hit different audiences, use different tools, and tell stories in different ways. Find one or two that work for you, and get yourself set up.

Website: Your business website is your home online. It’s how you show up in Google searches. You own and control the content of your website. Building a site (if you don’t have one already) can be as simple as signing up with something like WordPress or Wix and using their templates, or as extensive as hiring a web developer to build and maintain something more elaborate. My main suggestion if you’re building a site is to pay the small annual fee for your domain. Don’t make potential customers try to figure out or remember something complicated like – pay a few dollars to own your .com (.us, .org, etc.)

Facebook is the most popular social media site. It’s free to join, but make sure your business joins as a “page” and not as a person. Put your logo as a profile picture, and set up a cover image and all your contact information. Use your page to follow vendors and industry insiders, and share the valuable things they post. Share images of jobs you do (just make sure you’re not including personal info on your customers, like the address of the job site – remember that whatever you post can be seen by the public). Have some fun on your page, sharing clean jokes and memes. Use it to showcase new products and services, accomplishments and anniversaries, and to express your best wishes on holidays.

Instagram is the fastest growing platform. It’s more popular with younger people (Gen Z) who are not as interested in Facebook. Instagram is owned by Facebook, so if you set up both and connect them, you can actually have your Instagram posts show up on your Facebook page at the same time. Instagram is very visual. It’s less about telling stories and more about showing pictures. For a lot of businesses, that works. You can show off completed jobs, introduce new staff, or share new products.

LinkedIn isn’t really about attracting new customers, but it’s a great site for hiring and connecting with colleagues and other professionals in your industry. Set up a personal profile so you can recommend people like subcontractors and former employees. Set up a business profile if you plan to use it for hiring.

Twitter is Instagram’s opposite. Where Insta is picture-based, Twitter is word-based (though you can add images). Twitter is great for quick one-line quick bits of info, so it’s popular with news sites, comedians, and the President. It’s easy for your words to get lost in the sea of text, so if you’re going to use Twitter, post often.

– There are many other social media platforms (Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.). I’ve just hit on a couple of the big ones that are most likely to be beneficial for Country Lumber’s small business clients. For a more in-depth look, or to explore some of the platforms I left out, check out this article from Adobe.

Within social media platforms, you have the option to post so your followers see your posts, and/or to pay for ads that go out to a targeted audience. Prices tend to be lower than traditional advertising sources like print media and billboards, and you have better control over who sees your ad.

Building a following takes time. Start by inviting your personal friends, family, and social media connections to like your business account. Follow your vendors, suppliers, and other businesses that you work with. Post content regularly, at least once a week, even if it’s just a picture of a job you’re working on or sharing a post that a vendor put out. Keep your business in front of your audience. Some platforms let you schedule posts ahead of time, so that’s a great way to get ahead of the game on a bad weather day or during the slow seasons.

I know I’ve focused heavily on social media and internet marketing – after all it’s inexpensive and available right on your computer or smartphone, but there are other important leaves out there.

– In a past post I mentioned the importance of business cards/brochures/other marketing materials that you can hand out. These can be ordered with your logo and contact info from local businesses or online suppliers.

– If you have a shop, make sure it’s labeled well. Same for your trucks. You’re out there being seen every day – take advantage of that with vehicle decals or magnetic signs that advertise your business.

– Logo apparel/name tags/uniforms visually identify your staff with your business. Like other marketing materials, they can be ordered online or done locally. (Shout out to Tiffany at McDowall Custom Embroidery who does Country Lumber’s logo wear. She’s awesome!)

– Community involvement (roots) is a form of marketing, too. Support a local non-profit or kids sport/activity, participate in the chamber of commerce, or have a float in the summer parade.

The idea is to put your business out there so it can get noticed and be known.

Roots to Leaves: Part 2 – A Solid Trunk

By Karah Hawkinson, Social Media Coordinator

Welcome to part two of my look at small business growth in challenging times. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post (Roots), you might want to go back to that one first. It gives you the introduction to this blog series, as well as info on who I am and why I’m doing this.

Today I want to talk about the real heart and soul of a small business – the actual product or service you provide. Some marketing types want to sell you on a lot of flash and slogans, but you and I know that the real strength of your business, the reason you exist, is what you provide to your customers. Offering good materials, hiring quality workers, and doing a good job is really what it’s all about.

I’m going to go all “mom” on you for a minute – it starts with taking care of your physical health. And no, this isn’t about Covid and quarantine. What I’m talking about is taking care of yourself with proper diet, exercise (you know, when the job isn’t enough exercise on its own!), and regular health and dental check-ups. You simply can’t be the best for your clients and family if you’re not taking care of yourself. You are your business’ most valuable resource.

OK, scolding over… I’m not here to tell you how to do your job. I know that you know your business better than I ever could. I’m just here to remind you that there are things you can do in the down seasons to strengthen what you offer.

Are you licensed? Bonded? Insured? Up to date on your certifications? Are you keeping up with industry trends or changing product lines from your vendors? Do you have the most current brochures that show what you have to offer?

Keep your vehicles, shop, and tools clean and in good working order. It’s about efficiency, because they’ll last longer, but it’s also about the image you project to potential customers. A disaster of a shop doesn’t instill confidence that you’ll be meeting scheduled deadlines. I’m not saying you should be able to eat off the floors, but hose off your truck once in a while and make sure it’s not leaking oil all over your clients’ driveways. It’s simply about being courteous and showing your customers that you’re organized and professional.

If you have a staff, make sure you have a clear and up-to-date employee handbook. This lets your employees know what is expected of them and what won’t be tolerated. Creating a handbook doesn’t have to be a huge project, either. Grab one off the internet and personalize it for your business.

During the busy seasons, it’s hard to keep up with the business part of running a business. Use down times to set up a processes for payroll, billing, ordering materials and other necessary tasks. Once you have a system set up, it will be easier to keep up when the busy season comes.

That’s all I have for you today. Come back tomorrow to read about leaves – the visible marketing things you can do to attract business. I’ll be focusing on cutting through the clutter and helping you find effective and inexpensive marketing tools.

I want to say thank you to all of you out there who are working hard during this crazy time. Country Lumber customers are there for local homeowners and businesses who need repairs, remodeling, and new construction in spite of the current shut-down situation. We appreciate all you do for our community!

Roots to Leaves: Part One – Roots

By Karah Hawkinson, Social Media Coordinator

In the midst of the Covid-19 chaos, many small businesses, including independent contractors, are struggling. I decided to bring you a series of blog posts this week with my thoughts on small business growth and inexpensive things that you can do right now to strengthen your business. Even if the Coronavirus isn’t causing headaches for your business, there are always down seasons, and this information will be here for you when your down season comes.

So what do I (Social media coordinator Karah Hawkinson) know about this? First of all, I grew up in the home of a bi-vocational minister/painting contractor. Yup, an odd combination, but Dad was a painter first and used that skill set even after he became a pastor. There’s a lot of “do-it-yourself” and “figure out how to do it inexpensively” in both of those professions, and I grew up pitching in. As an adult I spent ten years doing contract jobs in marketing/ideation while raising my son and finishing my education. From there I went into history, a low-budget non-profit world not unlike the church world I grew up in. Along the way I’ve pulled those skills together and have learned how to think outside the box and grow our reach on a tight budget.

But enough about me…

I’ve given a lot of thought to small business/organization growth, and I came to the conclusion that businesses are like trees. They need to have strong roots in preparedness and community relationships. They need a solid body of work as the heart of it all, and they need some kind of marketing to attract the energy needed to continually feed the business.

A tree’s roots are it’s foundation and source of live-sustaining nutrients and moisture. Trees with weak or shallow roots die in periods of drought or are knocked over by storms and wind.

Your business is much the same. A business with a solid root system is one with resources to tap into and a support system to help it survive tough times. If you’re not already, work on building up a bit of savings to help you weather tough seasons.

Just as important, make sure you put down roots in your community.
– Join your local chamber of commerce – when Covid caused a lot of businesses to shut down, chamber members started getting emails full of resources about government programs and help from the Small Business Association. We also share each other’s events, and build relationships that sometimes turn into job opportunities!
– Join professional organizations and even Facebook groups for people in your industry. They know and understand what you’re dealing with, and the community brainstorming helps a lot. In my other job at the History Center we have a Facebook group of our colleagues from around the state. The group has been busy during our state-mandated shutdown, and we will emerge stronger for the ideas we share with each other!
LinkedIn is another free social media option for this. You can follow other businesses for inspiration, and it’s a great place to network and hire.
– When times are good, invest in the community. It’s a great way to get your name out there, but it also helps you develop the reputation of stability and longevity. Fly by night contractors who swoop in after a storm and skip town before the warranty expires do not invest in the community, because they don’t care. Investments are more than money, too! Volunteer, join a club/organization/church, help your neighbors, run for office, share local events on social media, etc.
– Make sure you have business cards or some kind of marketing tool (pens, brochures, etc.) that you can hand out when you meet people. The new guy you met at church might not need a roofer right now, but when he does, he’ll need to know how to find you! It doesn’t have to be flashy, either. Buy perforated sheets of business cards and print them at home, if that’s what you can afford – just make sure people connect with you and can find you again when they need you!

Trees and businesses that last have solid roots. Think about what you can do right now and down the line, to strengthen the foundation of your business