Selling Your Services to the Sunshine State

Picture

Florida is not only a “great state of mind”, it can also become your customer. Every state agency buys goods and services every day from established companies like yours. In fact, the state of Florida awards more than $1.2 billion annually in term contracts and agreements through the Division of State Purchasing. What exactly does the State buy? Thanks to strict “Sunshine Laws”, the state’s current purchasing contracts can be viewed online at the Florida Department of Management Services website. Spend a little time and find out which agencies buy what you sell, how often they buy and how much they spend. If you find a match, why not invest a little more time in making yourself known to the more than 15,000 purchasing agents working on the taxpayer’s behalf? Fortunately, you no longer have to go door to door in Tallahassee with hat and business card in hand. You do have to take steps to let them know you are open, ready and willing to do business with them. Florida Trend (FT) magazine recently offered important insights into breaking into state government contracting.

Go to MyFloridaMarketPlace.com, the online e-procurement portal for the Florida Department of Management Services. This website streamlines interactions between vendors and state government agencies and provides the tools to support procurement between your business and the state of Florida.

Next, click on the VENDORS button on that page. Scroll down to the Registration Requirements button to access the list of documents you will need to register. With the required documents in hand, you are ready to register as a New Vendor. It sounds daunting but it’s do-able.

To get a better understanding of state government help is a click away at My FloridaMarketplace’s MFMP University. You can watch (and rewatch as needed) training webinars and briefings on a host of procurement topics from how to find bids to how to get paid via electronic invoicing. Of course, there’s also a helpful page of Frequently Asked Questions.

For more information, contact us here at the BIC.

Who’s More Important, The Customer or Your Co-Worker?

Picture

There’s no doubt that customers are the life blood of any company. However, who is more crucial to your long-term success and profits – a customer or your co-worker? Your marketing draws in new consumers, but who makes the first impression of your company? Yes, it could be the owner of a very small business, but typically it’s a co-worker.  

With four decades of management experience in the construction trades and customer service industry, I believe that it’s imperative to search and screen well to determine the best applicants to fill any administrative, sales or technical position in any business that deals with residential and/or commercial consumers. You need to find and employ responsible people who are willing to learn, possess an outgoing and friendly disposition and who aren’t easily rattled. Consumers can be tough at times.

This is not new news to anyone reading this blog, but how many companies do you presently deal with whose employees are timely, considerate, knowledgeable and professional? The extra efforts a company takes during the hiring process will pay dividends for a long, long time. And, if you breeze through this process, bad hires can easily cost you much more than poor customer retention. In this age of instant gratification and instant reviews, your reputation is always on the line.

Personally, I have interviewed thousands of applicants and look forward to adding the next person to our growing staff. I have more HR tools available to me than at any point in my long career (drug tests, background checks, aptitude tests, personality profiling and more), But even with all of this pertinent information on hand, I still rely heavily on the value of the face-to-face interview. After an employment opportunity has been offered and accepted, only Step 1 has been completed in this employment and developmental process. As I have said privately many times, “Let’s wind them up, let them go, and see what we got.”

Most companies have a probationary period for a new employee, and everything must be acceptable in order to advance into full-time employment with valued benefits. Once completed, Step 2 officially begins. I figure that any new employee will take approximately a full year to get their sea legs under them. It doesn’t matter what position they fill – senior VP, apprentice, service manager, sales, customer service rep, etc. The individual may be well experienced in their area of expertise, but they still must learn the nuances of any organization and your company’s way of doing business. During this phase, teaching and coaching are essential to groom the new co-worker so that they have the direction and instruction to succeed and hone their skills to create better value – for themselves and your company. One positive side effect of this phase is to watch their confidence build as they learn and grow via their ever-accumulating combined customer experiences. During the latter portion of Year 1, they tend to relax, and you can see them become more comfortable with their role representing the company and especially with what they are saying…to your customer!

Step 3 involves ongoing training in many aspects of our industry – customer service, sales, technical training, supervision, and much more. It also involves providing a solid platform to keep a co-worker motivated and happy, such as individual mentoring, quarterly coaching (if necessary) and annual reviews. Many management books touch on the importance of employee recognition and I fully agree. Recognizing when someone does something right rather than wrong may be valued more than a pay increase – I certainly realize that pay increases are welcomed too. We reward a co-worker in a couple of different ways every time a customer praises their work. And if any noteworthy achievement has been earned such as NATE certification, BBB’s Customer Service Excellence Award (individual)  or any other business and/or industry recognition, we will also produce and promote a press release to highlight their accomplishment. Studies also reflect that co-workers want to know what’s happening within the company. For this reason and many others, we publish a weekly newsletter and post all of the customer remarks for everyone to see.  In addition, ensuring co-workers understand all of the company benefits available to them is also crucial. If company benefits are weighted too heavily to the top, it will be difficult to retain a full staff for any length of time.

We try our best to create customers for life…and we try harder to develop a great service company with little turnover. It can certainly be a challenge, but if it was easy, everyone would do it. A company’s ultimate report card is not necessarily their profit-and-loss statement. I think it’s also the company’s ability to gain and keep customers to fuel growth. This aspect of a company’s success will rely on your staff’s ability as a whole to satisfy customers and keep them satisfied with each and every experience with your company, which can only be done with quality co-workers…who care about customer satisfaction.

In the Spotlight: Meet the BIC Interns

Picture

Part of the Business Innovation Center’s mission is to offer internships to college students. It’s a win-win situation: they gain valuable work experience and we gain much-needed administrative, marketing and research assistance. This semester, we are pleased to mentor three interns with diverse backgrounds and skill sets.

ABEL BAUTISTA earned his BA in Sociology from St. Bonaventure University in the rolling hills of western New York, and is currently a graduate student in the Corporate and Public Communication program at FSU-PC. Along with his enthusiasm for helping others, Abel has business experience in social work and in working with the youth through recreational sports.  As a former Division I soccer player, Abel sees the monumental significance of sports in personal and interpersonal development, and believes impacting the youth through sports is a good way to build a stronger and more vibrant community.   “I’m eager to work for a non-profit  that benefits the community and hope to gain the skills of consulting and working in the business world,” he says. “It may help achieve my own dream of opening a sports-oriented non-profit organization in my home state of Washington.”

JAMIE SMITH is currently serving her second enlistment in the Army National Guard with two previous deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She entered the BS degree program in Communications in 2013 and was previously employed as the FSU PC’s Bookstore Assistant Manager. During her undergraduate degree, Jamie has helped analyze and develop advertising plans for the Humane Society of Bay County’s Operation Spay Bay, the Community Health Task Force’s dance-based diabetes awareness program, and Gulf Coast State College’s innovation tournament, The Collegiate Drive Challenge. Now in the last semester of her BS degree and first semester of her MS degree here at FSU-PC, Jamie hopes to expand her knowledge on business and entrepreneurship as an intern here at the Business Innovation Center. She fully supports the BIC’s mission and vision to provide tools for emerging entrepreneurs improving their likelihood of success. She recalls, “My father really struggled in his business. A program like the BIC would have helped him.”

JESSICA WILLIAMS realized that when all of her friends came to her for help in their writing and English classes, she was bound to have a writing career. She declared her major in Professional Communication in June 2014 here at FSU PC and steadily started working towards her BS. Expected to graduate in May 2016, she has dreams of working at Viacom Mass Media – CMT to combine her writing and public relations skills with her love and knowledge of music. As a BIC intern, Jessica is excited to gain knowledge and experience of a true business atmosphere, as well as honing her writing and marketing skills. She writes, “Interning at the BIC will provide me with wonderful on-site training and experience as well as a deeper awareness of all business dealings.”

The Big Idea: Taking Your Idea to the Next Level

Have a great idea for a business startup but need inspiration? Join us for The Big Idea, a series of informal conversations with successful entrepreneurs who will share their stories of business success and perspectives on what it takes to succeed.  Our Fall series begins this Thursday, Sept 10, with veteran entrepreneur and recent BIC program graduate Patrick Leonpacher.

Patrick Leonpacher is a seasoned entrepreneurial Executive Manager with over 15 years’ experience in leading the technical and business aspects of delivering software and services to market. He achieved 3,055% revenue growth over 3 years in start-up software environment by applying Agile best practices, implementing appropriate process controls, and recruiting and retaining top talent. Yet he is notoriously even keeled, approachable and “never too busy to chat.…” Patrick will be sharing his insight on spending the right amount of time on business planning and the rest on doing.

This event is free and open to the public! Join us on September 10th, at 5:30pm at Café Amavida, 2997 W 10th Street in St Andrews, Panama City.

For more information, please contact Pamela Kidwell at pkidwell@businessinnovationcenter.com or at 850-814-4533