We all started our companies from virtually nothing, we scrambled to get clients, and we weren’t sure where the next job was coming from (and often still don’t). For me, at least, having been in the business for almost a decade, I forget what it can be like to start out from scratch and have to build the business and your reputation.
However, working with many of the Home Theater Rebuild referral-partner companies, I have been able to live vicariously through the eyes of start-up integrators. One of the companies I work with started working on his business full-time only 12 months ago. He’s a solo shop, and in the second half of 2012 he did about $35,000-$40,000 in business. He’s already done more than $100,000 in 2013. Looking at what’s he’s accomplished in so short a time has made me take a step back and recall the lessons that I have learned (and re-learned).
1. Stay Humble — It’s easy to get cocky when business is going well and you’ve been doing it for years. It’s even easier to get jaded and want to blow off smaller projects or difficult clients. Seeing someone struggling with building a business and being grateful for every dollar of sales reminds me how lucky many of us are to have a somewhat stable income.
2. Think Like the Customer — It’s also very easy to forget what it’s like to be on the other side and to think like the customer. They are confused about the products, their options, and their bill. Take time to explain. Use simple-to-understand words like “Watch Neflix on your TV” instead of “It’s a streaming media device.” Remember that most people have a budget and can’t spend through the roof. Buying a new home has helped remind me of what that’s like. But seeing newer integrators empathize with their customers and see the project through their eyes has reminded me to step back and take a fresh look as well.
3. Always Stay Hungry — I’ve spent years cultivating relationships with architects and designers and building a strong reputation and referral network. I haven’t done a lot of traditional marketing lately, but seeing the Rebuild companies using online referral sites like Yelp, Home Advisor, Thumbtack, and Angie’s List successfully, and doing direct-mail pieces to new homes purchased in their territories has re-energized me. I am developing a direct-mail piece that is set to go out in the next two to three weeks to several hundred new prospects immediately and then several dozen each week thereafter. I wouldn’t have taken the time or expense if not for seeing it work for others and seeing how psyched they were with each new lead.
4. Don’t Forget Your Roots — Most of us started small and took everything that came along. Many of us have gotten bigger and have gotten more selective. I’ve beaten this horse a few times in this space already, so all I’ll say is: no job is too small or too “basic.”
5. Be Willing to Change — One of the Rebuild companies was having a lot of success with smaller jobs—5.1 systems, a troubleshooting job here or there, Sonos in a couple of rooms. He was doing well, but he didn’t see how he would get to the size he wanted to be to make the business sustainable. He changed. He took more manufacturer trainings on more product lines (URC Total Control, NuVo, and even a little Crestron). He also expanded into some light networking.
All of these “lessons” are probably things many of us already do. But take it a step further. Look at #5 above. Can you expand your knowledge? Can you take on additional product categories? How about expanding into light commercial work? Thinking about doing full-blown networking or being an outsourced IT provider for clients? Why not get into security, or lighting and shading?
Don’t ever stop learning. Always keep the end customer firmly in the front of your mind. Put yourself in their shoes more often. You’ll see more opportunities for growth, both from new customers and from existing ones with whom you can build stronger relationships.
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.