In our enterprise, 2021 has started off with a bang. We are launching our fifth shop this month and breaking ground on the build for the sixth. Even outside the industry, my son, Izaac, and I are launching a business next month. We’re bringing some long-held dreams for 50 acres we’ve owned in central Kentucky to reality.
Thanks to my new COO, and the managers, techs, and estimators he leads, I am squarely back in an entrepreneurial role as the visionary of our company. I get to find and make deals on future shops, as well as launch new initiatives inside and outside the industry. By the end of this year. we will have eight shops and have expanded into two new industries—that is, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” as many of my Kentucky friends say.
If you’re keeping track, that leaves one new launch I haven’t yet said anything about. I’ll share more about that here next month. With all of these new starts, I’m re-learning many of the lessons of a successful launch, several of which I want to share with you.
First, I’m reminded how easy it is to feel overwhelmed in this phase. There is so much to do; my checklists have checklists! How in the world does anyone keep track of all this stuff? Keeping track of things is definitely not my strong suit, either. But I learned a trick from David Allen, who wrote the seminal book Getting Things Done. David says we need to keep our mental RAM freed up. If our minds are preoccupied with trying to remember “all the things'' we’re not free to to think creatively and tackle harder issues. In a startup, there are tons of bigger issues to tackle, while also ensuring the little details are tended to. The solution? Brain dump into one place. It can be paper, notes on your phone, or some fancy app. The magic, though, is in having one, and only one, place to put anything that crosses your mind that needs to be handled.
Next, you have to own your online real estate. At this point, it feels like stating the obvious, but everyone is going to Google to find service providers. Just five years ago, Google owned 60 percent of all searches. Now that figure is approaching 90 percent. Having a solid Google My Business listing used to be a competitive advantage—now it is the price of admission! As soon as you decide to launch it’s time to claim your name and address in several places.
First and foremost are Google and Facebook, as they are the dominant players and likely will be for a long time. Adding pictures and information can make your listing stand out as well. Don’t forget Carwise and “Grow my Network” if you’re a CCC ONE user. Claiming your listings early gives time for the internet bots and spiders to recognize you as legitimate business. And with that recognition comes being found as people search for “body shop near me.”
Update and Learn
Make a splash in your new neighborhood by improving the exterior. Some fresh paint, signs and landscaping go a long way toward getting the word out. As soon as we struck a deal on our new shop, we immediately decided to paint the exterior and put a new sign up. Our painters waited for the first above 40-degree December day in Ohio and then pounced on it.
It was a little bit of a gamble, and it was actually a fairly big investment on the cost side since we didn’t have any revenue, yet, but it was worth it. Within a few days the previous owner was getting calls from insurance adjusters and friends asking when he joined CARSTAR, telling him the building looked great with the new colors on it. People are watching more than we realize. Some simple, but big exterior upgrades really do help create awareness, which then creates buzz, and buzz leads to the best marketing you could ask for: word-of-mouth.
Lastly, research your competition, both online and off. Do some drivebys. Do they look busy? What kind of cars are in their lots? What are the most popular local hang-outs? What do the online reviews reveal about your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses? Does the area have a high saturation with one or two main insurance companies?
What do all of these strategies boil down to? One very simple concept: The art of the start—a phrase I’m borrowing from Guy Kawasaki’s book of that same title—is about building momentum with some early wins that get you noticed online, and offline.