Dear Norm, At the beginning of this year, I decided to close down my business, CounterCrete, which specialized in custom concrete countertops, and got a job as a manager at a Target store. Because of various mistakes I'd made, I didn't have enough cash flow to carry on. In addition to countertops, CounterCrete also did interior stained concrete floors. Although I sold the countertop equipment, I held on to my work van and the tools to do the floors. When I began getting calls to do floor projects, I decided to start a new business, Nick Dancer Concrete, to supplement my income. The problem is, most people I knew from my previous business still think I do only countertops. I've put up a new Facebook page and sent out e-mails to former customers, but no one seems to get the message that I've changed businesses. What can I do to create a new brand focused on stained concrete floors?
-- Nick Dancer, founder, Nick Dancer Concrete Fort Wayne, Indiana
We all have a tendency to focus too narrowly at times and to worry about things that aren't real problems. As a result, we waste mental energy that could be better spent in other ways. Nick Dancer was a case in point.
He started CounterCrete in October 2007 and made a go of it for two years despite the sluggish economy, which has been especially tough on people in the home furnishings business. He told me he'd also made the classic mistake of going for sales, rather than profits. By fall 2009, he said, he was taking on jobs just to pay his past-due bills. A few months later, he shut down his business and went to work for Target.
Now, he could have walked away from his creditors. Because CounterCrete was a limited liability company, he had no legal obligation to pay them. But he said his conscience would not let him go that route. So he sold his equipment and put in long hours at his job to raise the cash to cover his debts. That, in my experience, is very unusual and a sign of great character. It told me that he is a young man with a very bright future in business. Among other things, it gives him a story that can be of immediate help in his new business.
I told him he should not spend another second worrying about the people who know him as a countertop guy. There are, by his estimate, about 40 or 50 of them. The potential customers for his stained concrete floors number in the hundreds or thousands. They've never heard of him. His challenge is to let them know he exists, and he should focus on figuring out how to do that, rather than worrying about his brand perception among the small number of people who knew about CounterCrete.
One possibility is to try getting some local publicity. I mean, here is a young man whose first business was, like so many others, a victim of the recession and the housing crisis. Now he's back in business with the support of his former creditors, who appreciate how he treated them when the chips were down. That's a great story.
I also suggested he contact builders, architects, and interior decorators. Those are the types of professionals I go to for recommendations when I need work done in my home. I'm sure a lot of other people do as well. He can use experts in design and construction not only to find work but also to build his reputation as a specialist in interior stained concrete floors. The fact that he once had a business making concrete countertops will then be an asset, not an obstacle.
Please send all questions toAskNorm@inc.com.Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur. His co-author is editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. Their book, The Knack, is now available in paperback under the title Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs.