We thought we’d do something a little bit different here on the ol’ Spark Marketer blog and feature a small business. Getting a look at things from the POV of those in the home services industry helps us stay informed, so we can better serve our clients. The moment we stop listening and being curious about what our clients are going through, what their challenges are, and what their goals are, is the moment we become unhelpful and irrelevant.
So, let’s dive in for a quick interview with Michael Shepard, owner/operator of Shepard Painting Solutions, an interior and exterior residential painting company in Louisville, OH.
Full disclosure: I’m sleeping with him. He’s my husband.
Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you, your business, and how you came to be the owner/operator of Shepard Painting Solutions.
My name’s Michael Shepard and I’m the owner/operator of Shepard Painting Solutions, a full service interior and exterior residential painting company servicing Louisville, OH and all surrounding areas.
Painting was a summer job for me — starting out about 15 years ago — that I always went back to between touring with my band. I worked for a local company that did interior and exterior residential painting and new construction here in Ohio. And that was really how I learned the skills of the trade. I never thought of it as a potential career until much, much later.
I guess at some point in time it sort of switched over and became something that I enjoyed doing. I began to enjoy the craft of painting instead of just thinking of it as a means to a paycheck. And I think that’s when I first started considering painting as a profession — when I learned to appreciate the skill of the craft and trade of painting.
What do you think changed? What flipped that switch for you?
I guess by random occurrence it was from doing a few jobs on my own, where I got to interact directly with the customer myself, and do the job start to finish. So everything was completely dependent upon me.
Do you think that made you take more pride in the work?
What do you think business owners can do (if anything) to make employees feel that sense of pride and ownership?
Trust your employees enough to give them more responsibility and relinquish some of your control, so that they can feel the satisfaction of doing the job completely themselves. Still oversee everything directly, but assign more responsibility to employees to where they’re held accountable directly for their work. Reaping the reward of hard work will kind of force your employees to respect the work more.
So, perhaps where business owners fail is that they readily place the blame on employees when things go wrong, but the ownership goes to the boss for a job well done? They have all the risk but none of the reward?
If I had an employee and their skill was at a level where I thought they were ready to experience that feeling of ownership and satisfaction, I would do the introduction between the painter and homeowner, but I wouldn’t necessarily do anything else. I’d assign the job to them, let the homeowner know I’m here to oversee everything, but that he’s an excellent painter and he’s going to take care of the job from start to finish. Then I’d let him do the work.
If my boss had brought me to a job, introduced me to a customer and said, “This is Michael, he’s an excellent painter. He’s going to be painting your bedroom today. I’ll be back at the end of the day to make sure everything is perfect, but he’ll take great care of you.”…that would make me feel like, “I can do this. The power to satisfy the client is in my hands and I need to make sure it’s done well.”
Do you think that empowering your employees and letting them get a taste of that feeling would actually cause them to leave? Maybe they would realize they can do everything themselves and don’t need you?
Maybe. Maybe not. Not everyone is in the game to start their own company. I guess it totally depends on your mindset for your business, but I think it’s worth the risk. If you have the mindset that you want to train people to the point where they are good enough to go out on their own and you empower your employees, you’re probably going to attract better people.
If they can see the job as an opportunity with a clear trajectory — going from no skills to getting the training needed to potentially go out and start their own business — they’re going to find that attractive, I think. Kind of the same way people think of college…when I get out, I’ll have more opportunities. It’s the same concept, just more practical.
“If you have the mindset that you want to train people to the point where they are good enough to go out on their own and you empower your employees, you’re probably going to attract better people.”
Speaking of the switch from a summer job to a career and the feeling that you get to experience with a customer, can you think of one of your earliest or most memorable times when you felt that?
Yeah, actually. I don’t remember the client’s name, but the painting company that I worked for in Nashville, my boss there was kind of a shady character and I didn’t particularly like working for him. And I feel like the clients didn’t particularly like him either — or at least a lot of clients didn’t.
But I remember that one specific job, I was sent to do the job, and the client commented and said that she really liked my work but she didn’t really like dealing with him. So she asked if she could just hire me directly and work just with me. I think that was the first time I had the thought that, “Wow I should just do this myself.”
So, even though you’re the type of person who had the drive and the self-motivation to run your own business, you may not have thought to leave and go out on your own if the company you worked for was better?
Well yeah, because I had no idea. To me that wasn’t even a possibility. I didn’t know how to just go out and get clients. I never thought about it before. I feel like that was the starting out point, because that happened on a few different occasions working for that company, where people liked my work, they liked me, so they wanted to work with me directly and not work with my boss. That’s how I got my first few clients in Nashville, and from there, word spread word-of-mouth and I was able to go out on my own.
What was the toughest part of that transition from being an employee to being everything?
Not knowing where the next job was gonna come from. Being uncertain of your paycheck.
What has been the biggest surprise to you as your business has grown?
The biggest surprise? That it’s far simpler to have a really great business than I thought it would be. At least in this type of industry, a skilled trade industry. Because someone’s paying you to do a job that, essentially, if you do it well, you do what you say you’re going to do, you treat your clients with respect, and you’re professional, then I mean, that’s it. It’s easy to excel. Ok, maybe I shouldn’t say it’s easy, but the bar is set pretty low. It’s unfortunate that the bar’s set so low in the painting industry, but it’s like, if you’re clean cut, you’re responsible, and you’re honest, you’re better than 90% of the other businesses out there.
“It’s unfortunate that the bar’s set so low in the painting industry, but it’s like, if you’re clean cut, you’re responsible, and you’re honest, you’re better than 90% of the other businesses out there.”
What has been the toughest lesson you’ve learned going out on your own and growing your business?
The toughest lesson I guess is probably more on the technical end of the job, in regard to the business stuff. Like understanding how to schedule, how to keep jobs flowing so that you don’t get bogged down. Being able to spread things out enough, but not keeping clients waiting at the same time. That’s been the hardest thing to sort of figure out and balance, I guess.
Would you say that’s the biggest challenge at the level you’re at?
Yes, I would say that’s the biggest challenge for me right now, given that I’m the owner/operator and I have no employees. So I’m doing all of the scheduling and doing all the work. To make sure I’m not spreading myself too thin and that I’m able to accomplish jobs in a timely fashion. Basically, avoid burnout.
What are your goals for the business? Some people like to stay small while others want to grow to like 10, 20 trucks. Where do you see the business going?
I actually don’t know yet. I’ve heard cautionary tales from other contractors that I’ve worked with who have gotten their businesses so big that it was too stressful and they had to downsize. Which sounds like a good problem to have, but I feel like it wouldn’t be. So I’d rather grow slowly and just bring people on that I know and trust, and then see where it gets to, and how I feel about it.
Because it’s such a foreign concept to me, I can’t fathom the idea right now of having 10 Shepard Painting Solutions trucks running around doing 70 jobs. I just don’t know how I’d handle that. Right now I like the idea of having a small crew that’s going to cut down my job time from say, a week that it would take just me, to two days because I have three helpers. That, to me, is appealing. I think the most important thing is to never lose that intimacy with the clients. So that would be the challenge of growing…keeping that intact.
“I think the most important thing is to never lose that intimacy with the clients. So that would be the challenge of growing…keeping that intact.”
When you are ready to hire or bring on that first person, what will you look for?
One major one is what their intention is for work. I wouldn’t want to hire someone who is just like, “Oh yeah, I just need a paycheck.” Because I feel like to be a good painter and to stand out in this profession, you really do have to have a sense of pride in what you’re doing. To do it well. Because there are corners that can be cut. But what makes you good is choosing not to cut them. Especially when no one’s watching.
There’s the type of person that wouldn’t cut corners just because they’re afraid of getting caught or because their boss is watching. And then there’s the type of person that won’t cut corners for their own pride. They won’t do it because they know it’s not the right thing to do. Their own convictions won’t allow them to cut corners. That’s the kind of person I would want.
But I think that would be the hardest trait to judge in a person. There’s probably a test I could come up with. I’ll have to figure it out.
I feel like some people are like, ‘Oh, you have to cut corners to go fast.’ That’s not true. Finding ways to be more efficient is my daily goal. I try to figure out ways to do things quicker, but still keep the quality at the same level. It has nothing to do with cutting corners.
Other things I would look at are appearance, professionalism, and how well spoken they are.
So many times I’m in situations where I go into people’s homes, and it might even be our first job together, and a lot of people just trust me. They give me the garage code and say things like, “I trust you.”
But I feel like they do that because I’m very professional. I act professional. I look professional. I know what I’m talking about. And chances are they’ve gotten a recommendation from someone they know. So if I send someone in there on behalf of my company, they have to be an extension of me. They have to be trustworthy and professional.
My first two questions would be 1. How long have you been painting? 2. Are you a smoker. If they said they were a smoker I wouldn’t hire them, flat out.
“Because I feel like to be a good painter and to stand out in this profession, you really do have to have a sense of pride in what you’re doing. To do it well. Because there are corners that can be cut. But what makes you good is choosing not to cut them. Especially when no one’s watching.”
Would you hire someone without experience if they were a total package otherwise?
Yeah. If they had the right attitude, I would train somebody. In a lot of circumstances I could see how that would actually be preferred, instead of un-training somebody with a lot of bad habits.
Want to have your business featured on the Spark Marketer blog? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey revealed that people are becoming less likely to visit businesses’ websites after reading positive reviews (down 17% from 2016), which some took as a sign that websites are becoming less vital to business success. But is that true? While consumers trust reviews and they may simply call after seeing positive reviews rather than visit your website, does this really mean having a website is suddenly less important? No.
While there has been a decline, visiting a business’s website is still the most common next step after reading positive reviews, so discounting the need for a website based on a 17% decrease isn’t smart. Here are five other reasons why businesses of all sizes (even small) still need a website.
#1 No website = no chance of ranking organically or locally
Service businesses and small businesses typically serve their local communities, which means they need those in their local communities to be able to find them in search results. The problem is, businesses that rank high organically are more likely to show up in the Google local pack and map results, and without a website, your business can’t rank organically. If your business doesn’t show up when customers search for your services, how will they know you can help?
#2 Your website builds credibility
One of the biggest hurdles service businesses and small businesses face is trust. Unlike larger, more established brands or businesses that don’t send people into the homes of their customers, you have to work to earn the trust of your potential customers and establish brand authority. How does a website help you do this? 34% of consumers believe that a ‘clear & smart’ website gives a business more credibility. More credibility means more trust, and more trust means more customers.
But your website doesn’t just build credibility with customers, your website is also the citation that Google trusts most for confirming your business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP). The more sure Google is of your NAP, the more confident they are showing you in search results.
#3 Your website is permanent and more controllable than your social media profiles
We all know social media platforms (especially Facebook) change more frequently than a teenage girl before her first date, and the reach and control you have with your social media profiles is impermanent to say the least. Your website, on the other hand, is the one place online where you have total control over the customer experience and the story you tell.
Some business owners believe that simply having a Facebook page for their business is enough, but what happens if the giant is ever slain? All those ‘likes’ are already mostly useless, but when you lose your only means of communicating with your customers and your only real platform for telling customers about you and your services, well, that’s no good. Don’t leave such an important thing in the hands of an external party whose sole purpose is to make themselves more money (Sorry Facebook, but let’s be real).
#4 Your website acts as a main hub that potential customers can access 24/7
Sure, some consumers are only looking at reviews and doing less research on a business before making the call, but it’s still important that you provide all the extra information those customers who are researching want to know. Listing sites and social media profiles don’t give you the space or control to really say everything you may feel you need to say about your business and your services, while your website provides you somewhat limitless space and a somewhat limitless platform for introducing yourself and informing potential customers. Having all of the information and answers your customers might want in one place makes it easy for them to get a good idea of how you can help them and why they should consider choosing you over a competitor.
And since your website is up and running 24/7, your customers can get answers to their questions and research your business when it’s convenient for them, not just during the hours you’re open and answering phones.
#5 Your competitors have websites
Last but not least, the majority of your competitors will have websites, which means if you don’t have one, they have a major advantage. They have a chance of showing up in search results, answering the questions your potential customers have, and getting the call from customers you could be serving. Business is tough as is — don’t give your competition such a massive advantage.
Ah, the work-life balance: Is it just a myth for small business owners or can you actually have a successful business and an enjoyable life? Well, it is possible if you just accept a couple of things:
Work and life will never be totally separate.
If you want to be able to completely abandon your work the moment the clock hits 5:00PM, owning a small business is not right for you. The reality is, your personal and professional life will always overlap. You may be in the middle of dinner with the family when you get an email or an idea for how to make the company more efficient. You may be in the middle of a job when you remember you still need to get a babysitter for Friday night. Accepting the overlap and learning to manage it and remain in the present is the key to feeling balanced and centered. What do we mean by “managing” the overlap?
Let’s say you did have an idea for how to make the company more efficient mid-dinner, mid-conversation. You could sit there, half-listening, while you mull over your new idea in your head, OR you could say, “I’m sorry but I just had an idea for work. Do you mind if I jot it down really quickly so I can give you my undivided attention?” Most of the time, your significant other, kids, or whoever you’re having dinner with will appreciate the fact that you want to be completely focused on what they’re saying and will allow you the time to do what you need to do to clear your head. And since it’s 2017, you don’t need to scramble to find a notepad — you have one in your phone (which we know is always with you: you’re a business owner). Quickly jot down your idea or make a reminder for yourself, and then let go of it so you can focus on the present.
What about when you’re on the job and you remember you need to find a babysitter for this week’s date night? Stop what you’re doing (if possible), and set a reminder on your phone for your lunch break or for the end of the work day. Once you’ve set a reminder, clear your head and get back to business.
You may also want to try the notepad or reminder method when your mind is racing in bed. It’s easy to miss out on much-needed sleep when you’re a business owner, but if you aren’t rested, you can’t bring your best to the business, to your employees, to your customers, or to your friends and family. It seems that bedtime is when all of the ideas and reminders of what you should do, need to do, or needed to do come flooding in. But don’t lie there trying to hammer them all down or spend hours worrying about whether or not you’ll remember them in the morning — jot them down in your phone or in a bedside notebook and let go of them. They’ll be there for you in the morning.
The scales will tip more heavily to one side at different times.
Wait, doesn’t balance imply that the scales are always evenly weighed? Yes, but the realistic business owner will need to be a little more flexible with his or her definition of balance. Some days, the scales may weigh more heavily on the work side of things, while on other days, they may weigh more heavily on the personal life side. The scales will always shift from time to time, but how you prepare for and handle the shift will make all the difference in how balanced your life feels during these changes.
For example, if you know you’re heading into your busy season or something at work requires you to put in several long days of deep focus, let your family and friends know. If you tell your significant other, your kids, and your good friends that you’ll be M.I.A. for a week or two (or a season), they’ll be much more understanding than they would be if they were left in the dark and feeling ignored. Remind them of how important they are to you and how important your time with them is, and make plans to get some quality time in before or after your focus session.
Of course, no one can survive a long period of ALL work and no play. To avoid burnout and feelings of being off-balance, make sure to set aside at least some time in your day and week for family, friends, hobbies, and relaxation. Whether that means a crossword puzzle with your morning coffee, 30 minutes of pleasure reading before bed, a lunch-time phone call with your wife or husband, or a scheduled movie night with the family, make it happen. Sometimes, as little as 15 minutes of unwinding can make the buckled-down days feel a little more balanced.
So yes, in our opinion, a balance can be achieved. Is it a perfect balance? No, not by a long shot. But you can truly have it all if you just set your priorities, communicate with the special people in your life, and remain flexible and realistic about things.
What do you do to maintain a feeling of work-life balance? We’d love to hear from you!
What is value?
According to Dictionary.com, here are the 3 relevant meanings for the word Value:
- Relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education.
- Monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: land that greatly increases in value.
- Equivalent worth or return in money, material, services, etc.: to give value for value received.
Taking these definitions, how do you determine the value of a website for your business?
Relative worth, merit, or importance
First you will need to decide if a website has value to your business. For example: I know people that have never had a college education. They are quite wealthy and successful, but place little or no value on a college education for themselves. However, for their children, they place a uniquely high value on it, because they see that it might be more valuable today than it once was.
As another example, here at Spark Marketer, we have seen the value of YellowPages decline relative to Google+ Local, which has increased tremendously in importance. This tells us that the value of things do change with changes in industry, technology, education and time. These days, all roads lead to a company’s web site. It is more important than ever.
Monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade
If you have a current website you will want to determine if it has value to the bottom line of the business. If you sell your business, what is the website worth in the transaction? Do you own the domain and the content, or does another company own it? Does it have value in the asset column of your business, or is it just another expense? It should be an asset. If it’s not, there is work to be done to make it a valuable asset over time.
Equivalent worth or return in money, material, services, etc.
Are you getting a return on your investment in your website? Are you getting back the value you expected from it? Is it helping you sell your services? Are you getting a higher ticket from those visiting your website? Are the people coming to your site price shoppers, or are they looking for quality at any price? These are all great questions to answer in order to really understand the value of your website.
When discussing “value” with many business owners it has become overwhelmingly clear that:
- Some do not see the value in a well done website and, while we can give them all kinds of data and statistics, until they believe they need a great website, they won’t invest in one.
- Some business owners do not see the value in owning their own website and domain. They prefer renting the pipelines that feed their business and don’t want the expense or responsibly of ownership and maintenance of their own pipelines.
- There are business owners who believe they are buying a “product”, thus are price shopping websites as opposed to understanding they are “investing” in a website that can become a great sales tool and funnel over time.
Here’s Another – Perceived Value
Perceived value is the worth that a product or service has in the mind of the consumer. We are all responsible for educating our clients and customers so they understand the value we bring to the table, no matter what the service or product is. Once the education process takes place, then the consumer of your product or services will better understand what you bring to them.
This week we launched the first-ever website for a company that has been in business for almost 20 years. The owner and I have had numerous conversations because he was very nervous about having a website. It was a leap of faith because he had no idea if a website was valuable to him or not. I just got off the phone with him and he related the following story.
Tim owns a remodeling company, and received a referral from a networking group in which we both belong. He called the gentleman and talked to him about his problem, and gave him his best sales pitch. The guy seemed to be not all that interested, but asked, “You got a website I can look at?”
Tim gave him the new website address and he figured he would never hear back from the potential customer. However, the next day he did get a call back from the guy, who raved about the pictures on the site, and now Tim has an appointment scheduled for early next week. Our client said the work, if he gets it, would easily pay for the site and all the online marketing he’s investing in for a couple of years!
Then Tim got to the heart of what perceived value really is, when he said, “I realized that most of my referrals in the past year have gone nowhere, and I now think it’s because they were not able to see my work. I am finally seeing the value in a website and what you guys do!”
We hope all of you are getting the value you want out of your web site as well.