The Sharpest Tool™

COVID-19 | Now Is the Time to Evaluate Your Business Honestly

Cheryl McRae
Josh Smith
Business Development Consultant Kathy Neilsen shares how home services businesses can respond by playing to their strengths during the COVID-19 crisis. From tips to increase lead volume to what steps you can take to evaluate your business honestly, these are important measures every business owner can embrace.

Josh Smith (00:03):

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the sharps tool podcast, where we take the sting out of marketing. This is another special edition where we're focused. The Corona virus has and its impact on the trades and home service businesses across the nation. My name is Josh Smith. I'm your host and the vice president of marketing for the home services division here at scorpion. And I'm really excited because joining me today is Cathy Nielson known in the trades as the chicken lady and Kathy has been in the service industry for more than 20 years. She's awesome. So we're really fired up to have her here, Kathy, welcome to the show.

Kathy Neilson (00:36):

Hey, thank you for having me. I'm sad. I can't be in your studio in California, but we do from home.

Josh Smith (00:42):

We are making due with the zoom conference calls right now. So Kathy's a well-known business development consultant and she offers some really valuable insights and practical business applications for service companies across the nation. So we're really excited to have you on for your first ever episode of the sharpest tool. And we'll definitely have to have a second round to when we get you out in California studio, you got a lot of unique insights and your advice for people in the trades. So I'm really looking forward to seeing what we're going to learn, but I have to start off and ask, cause I know everybody's wondering, tell us about the nickname, the chicken lady. How did that come to?

Kathy Neilson (01:18):

Well, so I also have my professional speakers designation, and most of my clients and all my friends have mainly know, I just decree chickens. They're hilarious. They're entertaining. And half the people, when they give me usernames, it's something to do with chickens. And so I was at this big event for national speakers and they always have a really fancy black tie night and evening gowns for the women. And someone commented on my gown and a friend of mine said, yeah, who knew she could dress like that end up chickens? And I said, there's my gig. Right? So everybody will remember chicken lady speaks and no one will remember my name or spell it correctly. So,

Josh Smith (01:59):

And so that works. Do you raise chickens? Is that part of it? Yeah.

Kathy Neilson (02:05):

For a sec. Yeah. I mean sometimes, but yeah, mostly just for fresh eggs and they're really training and eight tons of bugs.

Josh Smith (02:13):

That's awesome. Amazing, amazing. Actually, I haven't ever met somebody who raises chickens being out in California, sunny, California.

Kathy Neilson (02:21):

Yeah. We do a couple of cows usually to the meat in the freezer. His name was Harlow, so

Josh Smith (02:27):

Awesome. So for business owners who let's jump right into a business owners who know they need to make changes right now, given everything that's going on, training process for their tax pricing and their services, their administrative work, any kind of changes they need to make business wise. How should they think about going about the process of re-evaluating their business decisions right now?

Kathy Neilson (02:48):

I think the biggest thing they need to do is be honest with themselves because right now is a great time to evaluate that. Especially if you're slower and a lot of people just really, aren't honest with themselves about how their businesses are doing or the direction to go or where they should or shouldn't spend. And so now's a great time to do that. But the key thing is just be really honest with yourself and own it. Those key financial indicators just own them.

Josh Smith (03:16):

Yeah. In the businesses you've been working with. Have you seen this manifest itself in one area of a business versus others? Have you seen some areas more common where the evaluation needs to take place?

Kathy Neilson (03:28):

Well, I think a lot of it in our industry, a lot of the owners used to be technicians and they were really amazing techs and thought, well, they can have a business, but a lot of them just didn't know business and they didn't go to school for business. A lot of them hadn't been around it. And so I think that's the part they tend to not own because none of us like to met, we're not really good at any certain things. And so I think just really owning it if you're a great tech. That's awesome. So if you're not really great at the business art, then admit it and figure out what you need to do from there.

Josh Smith (04:03):

Yeah. I know a lot of business owners are taking a real strong look at their marketing budget, the marketing spend marketing plan, the strategy what's been kind of the advice you've been giving out with respect to marketing in particular for the business during a time of crisis like this.

Kathy Neilson (04:18):

Well, I think it's very similar to seasonality. We see, right? So when he needed cooking, we have definite seasons. We don't want to mark it when the season's upon us, we need a market for those times when the season's not upon us. So marketing right now, I think is important. I watch TV and people not in our industry see ads that are so I don't want to say inappropriate, but not appropriate for what's going on right now. So I think people need to look at those marketing campaigns are doing, if they have ads or whatever that looks like banners and just update them, make sure they're relevant for what's going on right now. And it's with people for that. Yeah.

Josh Smith (05:00):

Um, w what things should business owners be looking at and focusing on right now to get organized for the year ahead? Obviously a crisis doesn't last forever. It will end at some point where, where should we be placing our focus as a business owners right now?

Kathy Neilson (05:16):

Well, there's a lot of businesses that are still busy, but there's a lot of them that are quieter and may not be dead, but it's just a slower call volume. This is a great time to get some things cleaned up like marketing. What happens is we'll decide we're going to do this email campaign and we pull our lists and then we clean up our list. But what we need to do is clean up our database to begin with. So we don't have to do it every time we pull a list. Now was great times to do that. I, one thing I show, I work with a lot of people using ServiceTitan and I show them how to look at their database. The default is Alberta candidate. People are amazed how many Alberta, Canada accounts they have when they service Missouri or Texas or whatever. So cleaning up your database is a great time to do that. People can do it between the phone calls, cleaning up. If you wanted your financials to look different now is a great time. If it's quieter, volume covers up a lot of problems. And so that's a great cleanup to do right now.

Josh Smith (06:18):

Yeah, definitely. What I often kind of think about too, is the communication that businesses have with their, their consumers, their existing clients. It almost seems like now's a good time to kind of double down on making sure that you're staying present and in front of your existing customer base, to make sure that not only continue to be top of mind, but really check in on them. I've heard of home service businesses calling their existing clients right now, just to see how they're doing and making that a part of the outbound efforts when inbound calls are a bit slower, because it really goes a long way, as far as continuing to instill trust in the relationship that they have. So have you seen many companies do things similar to that, or do other avenues to stay in front of existing clients?

Kathy Neilson (07:04):

They are like, I had one person that showed me. I had put out on Facebook, uh, how you can make some sanitizer using ice maker cleaner because Manitowoc who does commercial ice makers put it out there. So I shared it well, they went in and they created a bunch and then they're giving it to clients and they said, Hey, do you need any, give us a call. So just saying, Hey, are you doing okay? We can give you this if you need some, so there's things we can do like that. The other thing I'm here all the time when I teach and train customer service is we tend to, to talk to them about why they're calling. So let's say we do heating, cooling, and plumbing. Yeah. They'll call with a cooling issue. And we don't say, oh, in case you weren't aware, we also do plumbing. We can help you with any plumbing needs or they'll call for electrical on it. Instead of saying, we do heating, cooling plumbing, they say, we don't do electrical well, the customers quit listening to you. So I think being really aware of when we're checking in with them, let them know all of our services because they may not even be aware of the other things we do.

Josh Smith (08:13):

Yeah. Well, you know, whether leads are slow or they're searching, this is a time when, uh, problems in someone's business might really come to light with respect to the leads conversation. Let's take a company. I know a lot of businesses are noticing a downturn and just overall lead volume and lead flow. And I think there's a lot of things that are obviously making that happen. Are there things that you've seen businesses do where they've had success in drumming up new business during this time in new unique and creative ways?

Kathy Neilson (08:44):

I actually had a client yesterday say they're opening up a sanitizing division. They're already going into homes. And so they're going to start offering home sanitizer, you know, going in and doing that. So I thought that was a great idea. I mean, you've got vans, you already have a database. So I think there's a lot of creative ways if we just get out of our own way and think about what can we do to serve them. I saw on a late show, I think it was Jimmy Fallon. He said, you know, thank you to my door knobs that I never cleaned before. And now we'll get clean, you know, 15 times a day. So those things that we never bothered before. So I think if you think outside the box, like that makes a lot of sense. The other thing is a lot of people have never spent this much time in their home. So their dishwashers getting used ours gets used almost every day. Now we never did that before your disposal, all those things. So let people know, Hey, we can do maintenance on things. We can do repairs again. Customers don't realize you do a lot of things. You think they know that, but they just really are unaware until it's needed.

Josh Smith (09:59):

I think some people underestimate what people will pay for in terms of what they need help with. You know, sometimes it's these small things fixing up the dishwasher. A lot of people aren't going to be as handy, even though that's not a turnkey or a business solution, that's going to necessarily move the needle in a very dramatic way, the way a water heater or a drain, you know, a trenchless dig might, it's something that gets you in the door, build a relationship for a future business down the road, too. So,

Kathy Neilson (10:28):

And I was laughing the other day. I was thinking how many people just realized during the stay home business, how much their toilets are running, because if you're not home, you don't hear it. And now you hear it and it's either irritating you or you're thinking how much or it's costing you in water.

Josh Smith (10:48):

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. What opportunities do you see that there are for a, to make a shift in the company and, you know, stare at potentially in a different direction?

Kathy Neilson (10:59):

Well, I do online of helping people understand how they and their employees are wired because we're all wired for certain things. The way I like to explain it is I'm, right-handed, I'd never picked up a pen and accidentally started writing with my left hand and said, oh, that was dumb. I'm right handed. Right. Because we're wired to do that. So I just did a what your genius session with the company in Denver. And it's amazing once you start figuring out how people are wired. So right now is a great time to start looking at that because we want them to be successful and they may be doing, or even you as an owner might be doing things you really aren't wired for and doing things are not wired for. It takes a lot of energy. It's exhausting. Right? So if I broke my right hand, I can learn to write left-handed, but it take forever to write something it's just exhausting.

Kathy Neilson (11:52):

So if we figure that out and start aligning their talents with what the tasks are doing, this is a great time to do that. I also talk about, I call it my hit by a truck theory. So if somebody gets hit by a truck at lunch, can somebody sit down in their seat and do their tasks? Payroll's a great example, right? Can someone sit down, pull out a sheet of paper that gives us that step by step instruction on how to do it. And most companies don't have those processes in writing. And so now is a great time to create processes for all those critical tasks first and then all the other little tasks.

Josh Smith (12:32):

Yeah, definitely. How else can a business owner manage team members upward?

Kathy Neilson (12:39):

I think a lot of that comes back to how they're wired in having them do the things they're aligned for. We've heard the expression, you promote them into failure. And it's because we think, oh, they're really great CSR. So I'm going to make them the office manager, but we didn't teach him how to manage or maybe they just stink as a manager. And so I think to manage up, you have to be aware of what those talents are and put them in places to be successful. And it may be something you do that you just have a problem releasing that control and manage up by giving them some of those things to do, and then oversee it instead of controlling it.

Josh Smith (13:21):

Yeah. Get the right people in the right seat on the bus to use Jim Collins analogy. Right.

Kathy Neilson (13:26):

I say that a lot too. It's, it's so true because a lot of people don't like to let everybody know how they do something, that's human nature, because then they think they'll be out of a job or they're not be needed, but the truth is then they can do something that they're amazing at instead of going to do this other stuff that maybe they're just not wired for.

Josh Smith (13:48):

Yeah. I think as a business owner, too, one of the things that often gets overlooked, just like exactly what you said with respect to people, feeling like it's going to put them into a position where they're out of a job. I think also that's how you scale an organization because you have that multiplier effect where especially as a leader, there's a phrase out there. I think John Maxwell said it something to the effect of your job as a leader is to work yourself out of a job, meaning you should multiply the efforts and the abilities and capabilities of your teams so much to the point where they could do your job. So it frees you up to do other things. And that's how you build a solid foundation for your organization. It seems to me that could be a really powerful thing to do right now with cross training and things like that.

Kathy Neilson (14:32):

It's hugely powerful. And my personal business coach said to me, years ago, when I first started working with her, she said, Kathy, you have to allow people to fail. I was so busy being sure they didn't fail because I could see it. I'm a very big picture person. And I could see that train coming down the track and I'd to save them from it. But, but you have to allow your team to fail, to learn and grow. And, and I think that's another way we need to manage up is just allow them that room and that it's okay. You know, if it happens here, we can't let the big things, the critical things fail, but you've got to let them fail some to learn.

Josh Smith (15:11):

Yeah, definitely. Well, Kathy, this has been awesome. I just want to kind of tie it up with a nice bow. What last piece of advice would you want home service business owners to know right now?

Kathy Neilson (15:21):

And one of the things I would do is look at what spreadsheets are you doing because the spreadsheets are an opportunity for error. And most times we're just duplicating the effort of our software. And then I'm going to give two pieces of advice. My other one would be is be really clear on your language, especially now when a lot of our office staff are working from home and we're not right there in front of them, sometimes we forget the words we're using and we know the intent, but the way they hear it is different. So just be really clear on your words and your intent, and don't think they know what you mean all the time. And now it's just even more critical because we're not face to face.

Josh Smith (16:03):

Yeah, absolutely. Well, Kathy, thank you so much for being on this special edition episode of the sharpest tool or really appreciate all the insights you gave, the information you share is going to be really valuable. I think that business owners listening, especially those in home services right now. So thank you so much. We'll definitely have you back in the booth when everything reopens.

Kathy Neilson (16:24):

I like that. Thank you for having me and I'm yeah, I'm excited to do it again. It's always fun to speak to scorpion. I enjoy.

Josh Smith (16:32):

If people want to reach you for more information, learn more about you. What's the best way they can do then

Kathy Neilson (16:37):

Websites, chicken lady and there's a contact page right on there and they can fill that out and I'll be happy to have a conversation.

Josh Smith (16:47):

Awesome. Thanks so much, Kathy. I really appreciate it. Thanks again for all of you listening, uh, wherever you might be listening at, definitely hit the like button and give that subscribe button a nice little tap so you can continue to get more of this awesome content, especially amid the coronavirus. Pandemic is plaguing the globe right now. And we're going to continue to bring you new insights here over at scorpion and on the sharpest tool podcast. And from all of us here on the podcast, we'll catch you next time. Thanks.

Speaker 3 (17:22):


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