Key Idea #1: Make The Old
New Gary said the sign industry will do 5.5 billion in
sales annually. The temporary sign business is a niche that big companies
weren't interested in. The old fashioned, hand-done methods were too expensive
for people who just want to stick a sign in their yard announcing, "The Last
discussion: What was new when Gary launched FastSigns?
Answer: The application of technology to
create small sign orders. Gary noticed that franchises like Sir Speedy were
enjoying strong sales and profits so he took their idea and applied it to sign
making. Gary started on the path of what is now called digital workflow when he
bought the technique he uses today to make signs.
discussion: What does this really mean and can any business do this?
Answer: Digital workflow means all
information is inside a computer in some format somewhere. And, all of the
computers talk to each other in some way. There is no paper needed to take an
order, make and ship the order or collect for the order. Any business can do
this but each of us has to weigh the cost/benefit and we have to understand
where our customers are in their efforts to go digital. Many small businesses
are not digital because their customers aren't yet and the wise position is to
be only slightly ahead of customers. As we send this episode to television this
week, we can report that most customers work online with FASTSIGNS. FASTSIGNS
has nearly eliminated paper by providing what they call, "proof by email."
Before this step was put into email, customers would either come in person to
proof a sign or they would receive a fax from FASTSIGNS.
discussion: How did Gary know he would be able to cash in on his
Answer: He didn't so he tested the idea in
one location first. Like we all must do, he took a calculated risk. He decided
if his one location generated $15,000 per month in sales within the first year,
he would go forward with the idea. Gary's commitment to digital workflow is key
to the success of each store and gives him an enormous advantage over tiny
shops. Computering is cheaper than ever but it can still be costly. By
providing the turn-key technology to franchisees, they have less to worry about
and more time to make sales.
about it: What action can you take to anticipate the marketplace? Describe
how you found your newest product/service. How are you going to find your next
product/service? What would it take for you to go digital? Who in your
organization would be the best person to be in charge of the effort? How will
you discover how digital your customers are or want to be? Which of Deming's
rules do you most need to embrace to see more improvement in your organization?
Can you re-write each of these points in your own words so that you can fully
own the ideas?
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Key Idea #2: Put Systems In
Place Systems are what any franchise offers a franchisee. However, even
if you don't want to franchise, you still need systems if you plan to hire even
Discussion: What keeps business owners from installing systems?
Answer: First of all, this is not exciting
work. It is grunt work. Second, there are many small businesses that exist
because there are no systems. For example, a cabinet builder who advertises
that his work is all custom and that each project is unique may not think he
can put systems in place. If there are no repeatable steps then systems can't
be installed. And third, we prefer to fly by the seat of our pants because it
seems to be more fun. We might think that no system could replace the force of
our fabulous personality. Therefore, we suggest that if you are leading your
business with your personality, it may be time to put tiny steps in place and
manage the accomplishment of those tiny steps. This is the only way for you to
Discussion: Where does one even begin?
Answer: We suggest this mantra: If it
repeats, teach. And to teach you must put a step-by-step process in writing.
Pretend you are going to hire a sales person to take over your sales efforts.
While there are dozens of book on how to sell, our favorite being, Integrity
Selling, by Ron Willingham, you must write a job manual for how you want
sales done in your company. Describe the ideal prospect drawn from a profile of
your most profitable customers. Create a place, preferably online, where any
sales person would enter the name and all contact information of any prospect
they discover. Write a script for the sales person to use when he or she calls
the prospect for the first time. Write a follow-up script. Write a script to be
used on in-person calls. Write product and service descriptions and the
benefits your current customers derive from doing business with you. Put an
order proccess in place. Are you getting the picture here?
As we said,
it is grunt work. Not long after you start this work, you will be tempted to
throw up your hands and say to yourself, "I'll never be able to teach another
person to do what I do." We know about a company that does $15 million in
annual sales that has almost no processes in place of any kind. The problem is
that people are hired and paid well but the owner is constantly dealing with
turnover because employee frustrations are so high.
about it: What does it take for you to land a customer, deliver to that
customer and get that customer to buy from you again? Have you written down all
the steps? Why not?
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Key Idea #3: Create A New Breed of Owners
The fact that entrepreneurship is enjoying great PR today works in Gary's
favor. This country was founded by entrepreneurs but most of this past century
has been dominated by the "organization man." The rise of the professional
manager has been documented by every business writer everywhere. Hundreds of
books have been written about how to be a manager. These books are written for
the person who is managing a group of people and all work in a huge company
like Ford, Exxon or American Airlines. Gary had the idea that these highly
trained, bright people might love to take a stab at owning their own
Discussion: Where does Gary go to find franchisees?
Answer: Inside big business. He looks for
the highly trained managers such as the banker you saw on the tape. These men
and women have years of leadership training and experience working for big
companies and they're perfect for Gary.
you think? Why are they perfect as owners of their own FASTSIGNS?
Answer: Big business runs best when people
follow the systems put in place, ususally by someone else. A "pure"
entrepreneur is the man or woman who thinks of an idea and starts a busines
form scratch not knowing if it will turn into a profitable business. A
franchise owner is a hybrid of an entrepreneur and a manager. When a person
buys a franchise, the idea has already been proven. Remember the banker said he
has looked at the financials of many businesses through the years and when he
looked at the financials of some of the FASTSIGNS operations, he could see that
FASTSIGNS is a good idea. There is no risk involved in evaluating the basic
professional manager then does have to put down his or her own money to buy
into the business and there is some risk that the location or the leadership
will fail. But, there is great comfort for the "organization man" in systems.
worked hard from day one to put the systems in place that will insure success.
He's a systems man himself. You can tell when you hear him talk about opening
the first store that it was very frustrating for him trying to get things done
for customers before the systems were streamlined.
cool to be able to say you own a business. Tapping into that trend and giving
the professional managers a business that looks more like big business than
small busienss, Gary has grown quickly. Because, once you have the product and
the processes in place, all you need to grow a business is people.
about it: With the fight for the best employees in full swing, what
non-traditional places can you go to find great people for your
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Key Idea #4: Seek Out
Mentors For this program we invited Don DeBolt to come to FASTSIGNS as
we wanted to hear from the chief franchise expert. As the executive director of
the International Franchise Association, Don works to provide a constant flow
of training and mentoring to all of his members.
Discussion: Who did Gary meet at one of the regular meetings of the
Answer: Some of his heros! He met men he
had admired from afar. He sought them out and asked them if they would answer
some of his questions about growing FASTSIGNS. It turned out that they were
very helpful and at that one meeting Gary established a connection he could
depend upon for years to come.
owners do too much alone. We do it because we think we have to or that no one
has ever faced this particular problem before or because we are embarrassed to
admit what we don't know. The founder of The CEO Clubs, Joseph Mancuso, says
that strong business owners seek advice from attorneys, cpas, other
professionals and other business owners. This makes sense. It is the weak or
insecure owner who doesn't seek help while the strong get stronger by seeking
about it: Who do you admire? Have you sought them out and asked them for
advice? If not, why not?
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Key Idea #5: Buy An
Unexploited Idea Most inventors are not business people and most
business people are not inventors. Gary saw the technology he now uses while he
was making a sales call for the first company he owned. He struck a deal with
the inventor and with vision and sweat equity, he now dominates the
marketplace. There are two ways to look at the word, "owns." You can own
something in the legal sense meaning you have the patent or copyright to a
product or idea which entitles you to use the courts to stop others from
profiting from your invention. Another way to look at this word is in the light
of the marketplace. If the marketplace thinks of you when they think of a
product or service, you "own" it.
Discussion: What steps did Gary take to "own" what we now see happening at
Answer: FASTSIGNS started out with the
legal right to use the technology because the inventor only wanted to use it in
his one location. Gary wanted to take the idea international. If you see a good
idea that is not being fully exploited by the inventor, you can do a deal to
get access. There are mutiple ways to do this. You could end up paying a fee
for usage, you could make the inventor a part owner of the company or you could
buy out the inventor at the outset. Inventors can be difficult because they
think that the idea is everything and they are so wrong. Veteran entrepreneur,
Bill Tobin, told us that the idea is 2% of the success of a business.
Sure you need
the right idea at the right time but to exploit the idea, to deliver it to
customers who are happy to pay for it, you have to have what Gary brought to
FASTSIGNS. You have to have vision, money and the drive to do sales and
marketing. When we studied
UroCor, we discovered that the inventor of a
prostate detection process had failed to make his company profitable. When the
venture capitalists who had invested millions in the business demanded
improvement, a new CEO was brought in and the inventor stepped aside.
inventor of a technology which allows computers to "talk to" a screen and mouse
remotely finally perfected his invention, he hired a banker to be president of
his company. Our point here is that there are probably inventors who need a
business person to exploit their inventions and if you need a new idea to grow
your business, there are probably inventors right now working on the perfect
Gary not only
"owns" the technology he uses, he also "owns" the mindshare of consumers. When
you think of buying a temporary, high quality sign, you think of FASTSIGNS. You
have to own an idea legally to grow a business. Even better if you can own the
business from the marketplace point of view, as does Gary.
about it: Is someone developing a product you could grow your business with
if you owned it? Are there inventors out there you should know
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Key Idea #6: Stop Doing And Start Leading
When we interviewed Dr. Keith Grint, we kept thinking about Gary Salomon
because Gary is the type of leader Dr. Grint believes can be the most
successful at running a modern organization. Dr. Grint has published seven
books and over 40 articles on topics ranging from business process,
reengineering to appraisal schemes, organizational theory and sociology of
work. He is the Director of Research at the Saïd Business School,
Templeton College, Oxford, England. Dr. Grint helped us understand how to
identify a leader and he talked with us about power, charisma, communication
it was a struggle for him to stop doing and start leading. He realized that he
could not keep everything in his head as his company grew and that he had to
depend upon others to not only do the work but to make decisions. Dr. Grint
would call Gary a process leader because Gary wants everyone to participate in
the decision-making and most of all he wants every working to improve the
Discussion: How does a small business foster an environment where everyone
speaks up and everyone is heard?
Answer: As always, actions speak louder
than words. As important as it is to engage in dialogue with your employees as
part of your interaction with them, it is just as important to have a formal
process for soliciting their input. Remember the suggestion box
that was so common years ago? The concept of the suggestion box coupled with
the exchange form of communication is a powerful combination. There are a
number of ways to engage in this dialogue, brainstorming sessions certainly are
an effective means. Collaboration is popular now that the Internet allows
people to engage from multiple locations. Whatever the process, the important
thing is that you have a way to engage every employee in the task of improving
about it: What formal opportunity do you provide for your employees to
offer ideas, constructive dissent and challenges to the way you are doing
business? What part of your operation needs better processes?
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Big idea #7: Look For
Neglected Customers Blair Taylor is making money by going where others
don't think of going.
Discussion: Why don't we consider starting a business or adding a location
in an urban area?
Answer: Blair, in a very nice way, says
it's simply a blind spot for most entrepreneurs. He reminds us to use our
analytical powers and not to react emotionally to the media's idea that urban
areas are dangerous.
areas are different from the suburbs. But, people live in urban areas and we
all need people to both be customers and employees. Blair says that urban areas
are undervalued. This is another way to say if you invest $1 in an urban area,
you'll get a faster and higher return on your money than if you invest in the
this: Young African-American men spend more on athletic shoes than any other
market segment. So, it makes sense for Blair to have an Athlete's Foot
franchise in Watts where there are plenty of young men with money to buy shoes.
It's that simple.
Drop the old
thinking. Harvard professor, Michael Porter, is writing about this very topic
about it: Is there an opportunity for your business in a urban area? If
yes, what action can you take to create jobs in an urban area?
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Big idea #8: Tap Into
Experts. Dr. John Hayes is just one of the country's franchise experts.
Gary and the leadership team at FASTSIGNS have had the benefit of many experts
like Dr. John and Don DeBolt. They are also forever reading books and articles
and attending classes at the various trade association meetings.
Discussion: What can every business owner learn by studying the franchise
Answer: There is a big emphasis on
continuous learning. Every growing company is a learning company; so we say if
you want to build a company, you must be a teacher at heart or find someone to
work for you who is.
If you buy a
franchise, you will receive your initial training by the franchisor, just as we
have seen in this episode. However, John says that you must commit to on-going
training. Our motto here at Small Business School is Learn Today, Earn
Tomorrow because we know learning pays. You and your employees need
consistent exposure to fresh ideas. The web is great but also sign up for
seminars, send your employees off to different classes then have them come back
and share what they learned with everyone. A weekly or monthly lunch and learn
is the greatest teacher we have ever met. The company he started from scratch
will do $16 million in sales this year and he says it is because he takes time
to teach. Every Friday morning he has a hot breakfast and an "all employee
school session." If you study
Beiler you'll see their school in action. The progam about Tom's company
opens with him teaching at his own Tires Plus University. It has its own
location separate from the corporate headquarters and there's even a neon sign
in the front window that says, "Tires Plus University." Tom is serious about
creating a learning environment.
about it: Are you willing to stop being the boss and start being the
teacher? If yes, make a list of the three or four employees who have the most
potential for leadership in your company. Write out your mentoring schedule.
What do they need to learn from you and how and when will you teach them? What
experts can you read or engage to assist you?
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