This month’s interview is with Vince DiCecco, owner of Your Personal Business Trainer.
What path brought you to where you are now with Your Personal Business Trainer?
After graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy in 1977, one of my assignments was Executive Officer of the CG Leadership and Management School in Petaluma, California. It was then that I fell in love with the training and development of people. I had the good fortune of studying under the well-known training and leadership guru and author Ken Blanchard (of The One-Minute Manager fame).
After my military career, I went into specialty chemical sales for Nalco Chemical Company, where I was given an under-developed territory in Tucson, Arizona. Throughout southern Arizona, I met and got to work with many different types of clients from hospitals to colleges to light industrial to commercial buildings and serve their HVAC water treatment needs, which resulted in tripling the worth of my territory. But, by far, the best part of my job was getting to know-and becoming good friends with-many different people with very interesting and diverse backgrounds. During my years at Nalco, I became a self-appointed disciple and student of the late Dr. Larry Steinmetz, Harvey Mackay and Kevin Davis and their respective philosophies on sales and marketing.
In 1994, Flexible Products Company-then manufacturer of Wilflex inks for the screen printing industry-recruited me to become their Manager of Training and Development. Little did I know how interesting and fulfilling I would find the graphics industry to be. Trade shows and open houses were like family reunions. Again, the best parts of my job were the people and their individual talents and vivid personalities.
The Fortune 200 giant, The Dow Chemical Company, acquired Flexible Products in 2000 and I stayed on with them for two years as a Process Coach in new product ideation and development. When I turned down an offer to relocate to Midland, Michigan, Dow and I parted ways amicably and I started my own consultancy, Your Personal Business Trainer, Inc., in January 2003.
Because of my monthly columns in Sign and Digital Graphics and Printwear magazines, along with presenting numerous sales and business management seminars The NBM Shows and other industry conferences, I’ve been able to connect with prominent companies in the graphics industry and design for them training programs to help them realize double-digit sales and profitability growth, and exceed their “greater market share” goals. I’ve made myself a commitment to incorporate my company’s mantra into every training program or seminar I deliver: “People buy from people who they like, trust, and with whom it is convenient to do business.”
What is the No. 1 mistake new businesses make when starting out?
It’s been my experience that many start-up shops or new owners who acquire an established sign business (e.g. franchisees) expend far too much effort and time, and spend too much money buying equipment and supplies, furnishing the shop, hiring production and office employees, and setting up the business’s infrastructure ahead of defining their unique value proposition, assessing the geo-demographic market potential, developing a marketing plan to stimulate prospect traffic and contact, and deploying a selling effort to secure actual orders. No company has ever turned a profit until it receives, fulfills and collects on the invoice of their first order.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why a company would open their doors and expect customers to just waltz in without doing any promotion, advertising or marketing, or making any attempt to actually ask someone to buy something. This includes businesses that give everybody in the organization a particular title, job or responsibility, but forgets to assign someone the primary role of “sales representative.”
When evaluating a business, where you do find most companies can make the most improvements to their business plan?
Most business plans I’ve seen are written solely to secure funding for the enterprise. After the loan is secured, often the business plan is not referenced, reviewed or revised until the need for more funding arises. Therefore, the most improvement a company can make to their business plan is to write it in a plain, understandable language, treat it as a living, breathing document, and refer to it often when making key decisions.
Specifically, a well-written business plan should describe the unique selling process that will be practiced and perfected in order to close the most profitable accounts in the shortest length of time. Mapping one’s sales process is imperative if the company expects its sales team to succeed. From lead identification/nurturing to qualifying the prospect to uncovering the strongest, unmet customer need and how that need can be satisfied, to closing the business and fulfilling the first order, mapping the sales process is as important as choosing the best ingredients and precisely executing the recipe for an award-winning apple pie. It doesn’t just happen…it has to be made to happen.
One more point…up-to-date business plans must have SMART goals set. I often tell my clients “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” SMART goals are written objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. If the company’s quarterly, annual and long-term goals are not written down, shared with the workforce and/or have all five SMART components, the company is unlikely to grow and thrive.
What are the most important programs out there to help small business that sign and digital graphics shops should be taking advantage of?
This answer is simple. Without fail, every small business-especially sign and digital graphics shop owners-should contact and sit down with an advisor with their nearest Small Business Development Center (SBDC; www.americassbdc.org). There are about 1,000 such centers in the United States-mostly located on the campuses of colleges and universities with a business curriculum-and most SBDC services are free. The SBDC is funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and has some of the best advisors and counsellors around-I believe every one of them must have an MBA. The SBDC can help a business owner apply for and secure a SBA loan or grant, and most centers offer low-cost or free training. SBDC counsellors may also be able to steer you in the direction of and put you in touch with trained, accomplished business professionals-such as coaches and trainers, accountants, lawyers, HR professionals, and mentors (through the SBA’s SCORE program).
What old-school business practices are companies doing because of tradition or familiarity that don’t pay off like they did long ago?
This is a tough question since many time-tested and proven “old-school” practices are often skipped, dismissed or never even attempted these days. If you press me for an answer on this one, I would have to say the practice of trying to do all of the administrative functions yourself-things like keeping the company ledgers and books, doing your own payroll, filling out and submitting corporate tax returns, keeping the shop and offices tidy and clean, landscaping and building maintenance, and/or social media management and website design- rather than outsourcing the business function to a specialist in that area. Try asking yourself “Is it a good investment of my time to learn how to do this-and do it well-or would my time be better spent elsewhere, like overseeing the entire business?” Essentially, as a business owner, you want to work ON the business, rather than IN the business.
What do you feel are the best ways to motivate employees and keep them invested in a business’ success?
That’s a loaded question since what motivates one person could do absolutely nothing for another. Plus, there’s the age-old debate as to whether you are even able to motivate another person or must they motivate themselves.
Nonetheless, for the past five years, I’ve been intrigued by the work of author and speaker Cam Marston on the differences between the current generations who are working. I highly recommend his two books: “Motivating the “What’s In It For Me?” Workforce: Manage Across the Generational Divide and Increase Profits” and “Generational Selling Tactics that Work: Quick and Dirty Secrets for Selling to Any Age Group”
Aside from Cam Marston’s perspectives, I’ve always found that business owners who willingly and freely share with the employees their vision for the business along with some of the financial metrics that indicate progress is being made get good buy-in from the workforce.
Noted strategic planning guru and author Verne Harnish says “Creating a great business is like parenting great kids: Have only a handful of rules, repeat yourself a lot, and act consistently with those rules (which is why it’s best to have only a few)”
In short, manage each individual as a person-not as a group-and give each the guidance and support they need for whatever phase of development they are in today. Be even-handed and private when disciplining or correcting them, and overly-generous publicly when recognizing, rewarding and reinforcing good performance.
During your years of advising business owners and managers, what is the strangest question you’ve encountered?
Another easy answer… “Why should I train my employees only to have my competitors offer them more money and steal them away?” And I’ve gotten that question posed to me too often, I’m sorry to say. I usually just don a bewildered look and/or shake my head. I’m afraid the number of forward-thinking business owners who see training as an investment in their people, rather than a cost or something they are obliged to do, is dwindling. I wish I could say, “You know…you are much more likely to lose good employees because you didn’t offer training, not because you did.”
If you could only drink one kind of beer for the rest of your life, which would it be?
I’m afraid my tennis teammates have made me into a beer snob…er, I mean aficionado and lover of India Pale Ales. I am very fortunate to have my favorite IPA brewed in my home state of Georgia. That beer is Creature Comforts Brewing Co’s Tropicalia-a balanced, soft and juicy concoction that marries ripe passion fruit with full-bodied citrus hop aromas that washes over the palate and ends with a subtle yet pleasing bitterness.
While I have enjoyed many other highly acclaimed brews-such as 3 Floyds Brewing Co’s (of Munster, Indiana) Zombie Dust and Santa Rosa, CA’s Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder, they are nearly impossible for me to get my hands on frequently enough. So, give me a cold, refreshing Tropicalia any time.
Who’s a good boy?
Our 18-month old Golden Retriever, Arlo, is a very good boy. He’s full of personality and zest for life, and yet he can still be very gentle and polite around young children and smaller dogs. The doggy daycare we often take him to employs Arlo to temperament test other dogs that apply to be boarded there. Our hope is to get Arlo certified as a therapy dog in 2020 and bring him to hospitals, nursing homes and schools to meet and serve the emotional needs of others.