Every year, almost like clockwork, the week of Thanksgiving marks the end of the busy season for our businesses. It’s a paradigm shift — one that, in a way, I look forward to. For my team, the end of the busy season marks the beginning of planning season for the coming year. After riding a wild horse completely out of control for nine months, we finally have time for those “war room” meetings that will define our success in the coming season.
All year long we take ideas that can be immediately used and put them to work. Being dynamic in that way grows a business too, but we basically follow the calendar that we made during November and December of the prior year. By the first day of January, we have our plan made, our calendar on schedule and our team pumped up and ready to begin execution.
We take advantage of the winter slowdown to brush up the website, redo product display for the new season and, last year, to shoot video … a lot of video.
One of the things about my work that I’m very proud of is the alliances that I have in the business. Competition is fine, but friendly competition is far better. So as I was readying for the coming season, I met with a local competitor over chicken wings. After a few hours of intense brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of each other, the “Pond Product Review Guy” was born.
In the Beginning
For years, I had been producing very low-quality videos made with my cell phone with no video editing and uploading them to YouTube. As low-quality as they were, I was getting thousands of views — and more importantly, a measurable increase in sales. For some reason, customers wanted to talk to the person in the video as if he were some sort of an authority on the product, and closing sales became very easy. I added links from those videos to the products on my website, and web traffic increased measurably.
Remember how I said that those videos were low-quality? For a few of you reading this, you might laugh and nod your head and shout that they were junk. To you, I say, “True. But as poor as they were, I was making money.”
So as my local competitor (and friend) and I ate those wings, an idea took flight. I told him that he had an identity in this business — one that was so recognizable that if you mention his nickname, you know his real name — and I wanted that for myself. In this business, we have people who specialize in fish health, pond building, plant expertise … the list goes on. What we decided was that I was already creating an identity and didn’t even know it. I was that guy who was doing those “out of box reviews” on as much product as I had time to film, and we decided that it was time to take it to the next level: “The Pond Product Review Guy.”
The first video shoot took nearly four hours of trying to get the framing right, the light just so … and most importantly, trying to keep me from laughing or doing something goofy that would mess up the shot. Let me assure you, it wasn’t easy … but it was loads of fun. The best thing is, I was articulating features and benefits on those products that I hadn’t honestly thought about before.
Not only was I doing some great reviews, but I became the authority on the product. Nearly as soon as I uploaded these videos, my sales went through the roof. One of my favorite series I shot was on the Helix Life Support System — in particular, the Helix Pond Skimmer. I can say conservatively that I have sold nearly 100 of them since I did the video series, and nearly every one of them was assembled by my hands as plug-and-play. Not only was I selling skimmers, but I was selling pumps, discharge kits, auto fill and overflow kits. At full price. Sure, there are websites that sell them for less, but do they make them plug-and-play? Not many that I know of.
What does this shameless plug have to do with video product reviews? I’ll tell you. We are in this business to turn a profit and provide a service to the hobby. In making these videos, the customer felt obligated to buy the product from the guy selling it to them. I was providing a value behind the increased selling price. The value I was giving was information. Never consider that insignificant. Sales 101 says that the more you talk value, the less you are talking price, and vice versa.
By the way: I’ve been asked more than a few times if I would give a negative review. I don’t see what that accomplishes. First of all, if I didn’t like a particular product, I wouldn’t have it in inventory. Secondly, I believe it divides the community. If I don’t like the product, I just won’t review it.
Am I telling you that the secret to your success is to make videos? No! What I’m telling you is that you need to exploit your strength and create an identity for yourself doing what you do best: being you. Shortly after producing my first video, a local builder thought it would be to his benefit to copy what I was doing. Now, I was flattered by the obvious copying, but as I watched the videos pop up on social media, I was approached by friends in the business all over the country asking me what this person was up to. My response? Finding an identity.
If you haven’t found it yet, I want you to find your identity. I want you to be that positive impact on the hobby that makes a positive difference and grows our mutual love for water and everything in it. Are you that person who makes a phenomenal waterfall? Share your work! Are you the person who takes great pictures? Then teach others how to do it! If you are that person who can feed wild birds by hand, never lose your passion! I have met very successful people who specialize in pond maintenance and steer away from building, people who specialize in incredible filtration systems, and others who can make nighttime come to life with some of the most amazing lighting systems you can dream of. And then there are the motivators! I have sat at the lunch table with a man who I feel is the most influential man in this industry, only for him to give me tip after tip and then follow up with phone calls to my cell just to check up on me and my local competitors.
What if you don’t know your strongest attribute? Here are a few tips that might help.
1. Ask the right people
I know this may sound simple, but consider this: I have a friend and personal mentor. He is a solid person and has a solid team that supports him. Some of the people on his team are what we would call “yes men” and others have the unpopular role of being the speed bumps that slow him down. All of them are vital to the success of his vision. If all of his team gave him undying support, it is my humble opinion that he would burn out quickly or be encouraged to make some strategically bad decisions. I would rather have the team that had a balanced number of “nay-sayers.” Those are the people who discourage you from making reckless decisions that could cost you not only loads of money, but also valuable time — something that is never replaced. If you are going to ask for honest input, get it from those who see you for who you are, not for who they hope you would be.
2. Check your areas of giftedness
I hate seeing people trying to be something they are not. Truth be told, I stink at most team sports. I can’t play basketball and I struggle to throw a baseball from deep left field (my personal hell), but I can hit. I’m that guy that is junk at every position in the outfield, but when I’m at bat, the outfield backs up. If my coach could just play me in the infield, I may find my element. We all know deep down where we are gifted. It makes no sense to me why anyone would want to try to be something they are not. To me, it’s like watching a train wreck.
Getting back to the person who was copying me shooting field videos: yes, it was flattering, but this contractor is a good pond builder and, unfortunately, not an actor. The cameraman was sneezing and coughing while shooting, and in an effort to get the video uploaded quickly and the construction job that they were filming finished, they either chose to leave the bloopers in or simply neglected them. The bottom line is that I know what I’m good at and I know my limitations, and so do you. Do what you do well and excel at it. Let your strengths be your strengths.
3. Do what comes naturally
I love people, and my friends on Facebook know where I stand. I have been working toward a goal for some time now, and in testing my audience I made the announcement that my goal was nearly reached without announcing what it was. The comments were very interesting to say the least. One person thought I was entering the ministry! That wouldn’t surprise me, but no, it was business-related.
What do your friends, family, team members and customers see in you? Do they see an artist who can transform a pond gone wrong into a masterpiece? Do they see you as that person who builds community within this industry while running a successful business? Do they see you as that person who runs a great construction company that is multi-faceted? Then be that person and do it without restraints. Focus your energy on what you do naturally and don’t be distracted by your competition.
I have a friend in the business who wanted to expand his business to include retail. Knowing the level of personal involvement that it take to start up a retail facility, I did all I could to discourage him. You see, he’s a talented pond builder and is very busy. Where is he going to find the time to open retail? Who is going to run construction while he runs the store? If he’s not the one building the pond, then his reputation is at stake. I recently drove by the location that he had staked out and saw it had been rented out to someone else. For his sake, I breathed a sigh of relief.
This is the time of year when we need to begin planning what we are going to do next year. Whether you are a construction company, a dot com, a retail store, a maintenance company or all of the above, set a plan for success and seek advice — even if it’s the advice of your competition. So as this year grinds down, take stock in what you do best. What are you really good at? What comes naturally? Exploit it! Surround yourself with others who fill in your weak spots and build a team. Make friends everywhere, and never think you’re all that. The moment you put yourself on that deserted island, you will realize just how important your rescuers really are.
And by all means, go out and eat some chicken wings.
Look for part 2, “Coop-etition: Cooperating in Competition” in the November/December issue.