Clay shares his life starting in business back in the 80’s – how he started out in the chimney and masonry business by learning how to clean and service fireplaces and advertising himself in local newspapers. Of course, marketing played a big part in growing his business.
He also shares how E-Myth helped him develop his entrepreneurial skills, especially in marketing. As he puts it, being a business means wearing a lot of hats as your business progress. Sometimes you are a bookkeeper, other times you want to learn about finances.
- Starting out from scratch is a good thing
- Learning about cash flow in starting a business
- Marketing your business
- Never limit yourself, explore other trades
- Working with and developing relations with others
- Getting a sales force
- Building an online presence and knowing your audience
- There’s value in everything if you look for it
Websites Mentioned / Where You Can Find Today’s Guest:
CLAY LAMB: Oh, I’ll give an analogy… someone says, I’ve got an aunt that wants to dump 20,000 dollars in business, what should I do with it? Well, I sure wouldn’t be going out and buying a brand new truck.
Welcome to Smart Tradesman, the show dedicated to bringing entrepreneurship into small business. Whether you are a seasoned business owner, or just starting out. It is our mission to help you design a business that works for you, and not the other way around. Now, here’s your host, Daniel Eric Bowling.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Smart Tradesman. I am your host, Daniel Eric Bowling, and I want to thank you once again for joining me for this episode, because if it wasn’t for you then there’d be no reason for me to be recording these episodes and putting them out there. I have an amazing guest for you today, and we touch on a lot of serious topics that will help your small business if you choose to listen and implement. Are you learning from the mistakes of others in your small business? Are you talking to people that have been there and done that? And are you willing to take that information and apply it to your small business, and not have to learn the hard way yourself? Because I will tell you, the hindsight is definitely 20/20. So you can advance your business a number of years and skip just a little bit of heartache and possibly make a lot more money if you just reach out and network and listen to people within your industry, and possibly even outside of your industry, and learn what’s working for them and what’s not working for them, almost more importantly.
My guest in today’s episode of the podcast has a lot of years in experience in growing an offline trade business into a very successful one, as well as learning to incorporate an online side of the business in selling products that help some smooth out the ups and downs of seasonal based work. Your mission today, if you choose to accept it, is to listen to my conversation with my good friend, Clay Lamb, and try to pick out some useful nuggets of information because I will say, this conversation is certainly packed with them. And, gather your takeaways and implement them into your business because I will tell you that clay is very knowledgeable, and he will love to help you. So if you need further information on anything that we talk about today, he would love to hear from you. Anything we talk about in today’s episode will be listed in the show notes, where you’ll also be able to find a full transcription of the episode. So without further delay, here’s my conversation with Clay Lamb.
My guest today has built a very successful offline business called American Chimney and Masonry. He has ventured over into the product space, representing a product line that fits perfectly with his chimney and masonry business. Now you can find him behind the microphone as he gears up to launch his online platform which will service us contractors out there looking to grow our businesses to the next level. I am proud to introduce my good friend, Clay Lamb.
CLAY LAMB: Thank you, Daniel, that’s an awesome introduction. I swear, sometimes I wonder if that was really me or not.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I just had—I had a prewritten, I just inserted your name.
CLAY LAMB: Sure, that’s okay!
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So you might want to check on that business name because it might be trademarked because somebody else had it.
CLAY LAMB: That’s okay, we’ll just let it roll. Whatever happens, happens.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Speaking of your business, I was very impressed with what I saw when you invited me over to see your house and business. So if you don’t mind, let’s jump back to the beginning. Can you share with all of us other Smart Tradesman what started you down your path that led you to where you are today?
CLAY LAMB: Well, like most guys in the business, they’ve got to figure out a way to pay for the bills and support your children. I had three kids. I guess it was back in ’80, ’81, something like that. I was about 30 years old, thinking what am I going to do to pay the bill? So I kept reading these magazines. You know how you go in a back of the business, say, be this, do this, or sell this, I don’t care if it’s a pet rock or what, you figure something yourself. But I saw something about being a chimney sweep, make 49 dollars an hour. Well, that was astronomical. I couldn’t even fathom something like that.
Like most things, I had to save up the money and buy a 1500 dollar kit called august west. When it arrived my house, it was a big red vacuum, brushes, and a to do book, and here I was. The next day I was actually running a chimney and fireplace service company, and that’s where I really started at. I had not been in the trade at all. I had some trade and construction industry knowledge, but as far as the wood stove and fireplace business I did, this was in the early ‘80s, so we know we were having energy crunches with oil embargos and things like that. So I decided to jump in there. I had bought a wood stove, installed it improperly like most people did those days. There were a lot of chimney fires back then, because they weren’t vented properly.
I went about my way, learning how to clean and service fireplaces, wood stoves, and went on my mere way and kind of grew my business and put some ads out, some local newspapers, and I learned about marketing. Kind of like the hard way, everybody else. But I was hungry. When you’re 30 years old and you have bills to pay, it’s amazing how late you’ll stay up, how much energy you have.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Did you have the intent of growing a business, or were you just trying to pay the bills?
CLAY LAMB: I was honestly trying to pay the bills. I had come from a couple other industries. I’d actually been in material handing business, I had actually been in the clothing industry. I worked for a company called Brook’s Brothers, which is a very old clothier. I worked for a company called Tom James and a federated department store also, so I had a vast knowledge of clothing which is so unrelated to chimneys and fireplaces, but I had to pay for a way to service my family with a paycheck every week.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So walk us through the point where you realized, I have a business now and I’m not just a self contractor paying my bills.
CLAY LAMB: Well I guess that would probably be ’81, ’82, because I actually started full time, it fell on my face because of some recession times. In about ’83, I said okay I’m going to kick it. So I left a part time job and went into this thing full time again as a chimney fireplace company. And I decided, well, I got enough jobs. I can get my brother in law to work maybe a couple nights. He was all for it, he needed some extra cash. There was another guy that was pretty knowledgeable mechanically, and I brought him in. so I sent him, run a couple of trucks. I’m looking for an old beat up truck like a lot of guys start out. You know, got him going, put some ladders on it, and start rock n roll, here we go.
I really enjoyed marketing and I actually have a degree in sales and marketing so I felt comfortable. But if you put me on a tradesman level, I’m probably about a 6 or 7. Knowledge of the industry, I’m probably about a 9. But marketing, I still like to hang it on 9. I really like marketing a lot.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Which is an area that most of us in the trade, even if we are 9 or 10 in the trade level, we don’t know what to do with it. Marketing is not our strong points.
CLAY LAMB: Well, there is a book. And it’s called E-Myth. It’s something every entrepreneur, every tradesman should read so he knows where his skill level is. There’s other parts of his business, he needs to learn about marketing. Some time you have to break away from the shoebox collection of all your receipts and get into a bookkeeper and then you try to learn what a CPA is, then you progress someday and maybe get up to saying, I want to teach about finances. So it’s all progression. Whatever you do, it’s still progression.
If you do it with some integrity, I think there’s enough great people out there to help you, and we’re talking 34 years ago when I played around at the start out. Today, you have so much information online, such as Smart Tradesman.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Exactly, and there’s so much, just still… I’m finding so much resources out there that I am blown away that we are incorporating these into our small businesses. Do you have a resource that you use every day in your business that you’d recommend?
CLAY LAMB: Well, let’s put it this way. I have an old saying now, but if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re still going to make the same amount of money. You’ve got to figure, what can I do to grow my business? How can I expand this thing? How can I get more me out there? What am I going to do better for my customers? I wasn’t adverse from learning from my customers, you know, new ways they’re running their business. I sat down.
I can remember one time I was talking to a guy who ran a bus company, and he said, Clay one of the most important things you have to learn about is called cash flow. And that probably turned my light on. I said, oh, cash flow. It’s not just about one job being blue jean rich. It’s learning to get a cash flow within a company. Even if it’s a seasonal business, you have to figure how to keep that cash flowing because you have fix bills and you have seasonal bills, whatever industry you’re in.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I’m sure, especially with chimneys and every other tradesman out there as well, there are a lot of seasonal ups and downs. Is there, you know, a recommendation on how to straighten that out a little bit by maybe multiple streams of income?
CLAY LAMB: I think it’s a real important question to address real quick in a business. Okay, let’s say my business was strong in September, October, November, December, and January. Well, that left behind dry for the other parts of the year. So what else could I start to do? I start realizing, maybe I could learn how to do some masonry. So I learned how to rebuild a firebox or reset a damper system or fix a smoke chamber or repair the ground, or even start to use bricks. So what I did, I actually brought in brick masons to do the repair. But whatever industry you’re in, you have to learn how to price it.
It’s more than just putting a number after. You’ve got to figure, am I going to make money off? I’ve got to pay the subcontractor. And then we’ve moved into the arena where we have to actually bring brick masons on, and that kind of expanded our business. But like any other business you still have January, February, and March, here in the Cincinnati area. You actually have to think, what am I going to do? even today, currently, we’re in the process of building a wood stove store because that would elongate our seasonality.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: As far as being able to project manage and sell the jobs would you agree that’s a huge part of any industry?
CLAY LAMB: Well, here’s what happens, I find. Most guys get real busy, and they forget to market. And they forget that season is coming around where they don’t have any business, and they’ve got to think of that. You’ve got to start thinking, what can I grow for that odd season? And you know, there’s two parts of a system. One is a pipeline. That’s in house contracts. But then there’s a funnel. The funnel is people you’re talking to, writing quotes to, in some place that funnel has to swirl that job down into a pipeline, coming in with a signed contract and a check.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: And we always got to be looking for out in advance for that pipeline.
CLAY LAMB: And if you don’t fill that funnel out with some leads and talking to customers, and taking your time to call back a customer is probably the worst things a solo entrepreneur does. He gets so busy, he doesn’t call a customer back, he doesn’t have a system in place to follow up on the contract. Those tickler systems are real crucial, because you never know if someone is putting a deck on or pressure washing or whatever industry they’re in, they’re not filling that funnel up, there’s not going to be jobs.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I think one thing that’s helped me with my business is it sounds like you have done the same thing. I don’t limit myself to my skill sets. If I see that I’m going to be slow in a certain time period, I still see the work that’s there, and there’s other people that need those jobs, and my strength is in getting those jobs and I’ll run them through. I’ve got to quote them, I’ve got to learn how to hit the numbers, but if there’s room for me to make money and somebody else to make money, everybody is happy.
CLAY LAMB: So you’re talking about bringing another trade into the same job?
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Exactly.
CLAY LAMB: Sure, makes sense. That makes a lot of sense.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Where you said you brought in the brick masonries, because that wasn’t necessarily your strong point. You still got the job.
CLAY LAMB: Oh yeah. And I always identify: this is my job. There’s a mindset of a lot of contractors, a lot of brick layers, they say, well this is my job. No, no, no. Because the guy next door is my job too. The guy across the street is my job too. So if you get something, I’ll share the pie with you, but still this is my job. We spent the money to get the marketing to get us to the door here. And the guys got a lot of work. The ones that didn’t said goodbye.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Well, it’s about developing relationships. You work well with each other, you can, in slow times, rely on somebody else and then you can feed them in your slow times.
CLAY LAMB: Exactly right. That’s exactly right.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So that’s a mindset that I would like to bring from the online businesses that I’m finding, is that everybody is working together, they’re putting it out there for other people, because I guess with online you’re not feeling like it’s direct competition. With offline, if somebody is going to take your business. If you can learn to work together, you can keep each other busy in different times when there’s ups and downs and it’s not just you relying on you and yourself.
CLAY LAMB: You know, that really brings up an interesting point. It’s hard to get other trades to really look for your jobs, your trade. Be it a painter or a roofer. Who doesn’t do the masonry work, it’s hard for me to get him to do that. But what I found are, there’s certainly people in the roofing industry that don’t do the things we do. And those are the relationships I really nurture. There are about three or four guys in Cincinnati that are just, a ton of really good work. I mean, we’ve got to acknowledge that. Either with sending pizzas, getting out and getting them some chipotles, you can see me out on the field. Just building that relationship.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Everybody is needing to pay their bills and feed their families, but I mean beyond that, like you said, buy them pizza. It something that develops a relationship, and then throw them a 10 percent on a big job or something. Work it into your quote and incentivize.
CLAY LAMB: Sure, sure. And you might not think, well they never asked for it. Don’t tell me they’re not thinking about it, because you are.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Because they won’t ask for it, and you won’t get another one from them.
CLAY LAMB: That’s right. Remember, no answer is an answer. If they’re not telling you, they’re talking about somebody else.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Exactly. Somebody is going to get it. So, I’ve heard you talk many times about measuring the size of your business with the number of trucks that you have. Talk a little bit about that.
CLAY LAMB: Sure. Well, it’s interesting you brought that back up because one of the discussions I had and what I call mastermind, we have kind of mixed groups, means an information exchange. I’ll send in a request. I want to ask people what their average ticket was on a truck. And then I also said, what do you think your gross is on a truck? Every ticket to me is a check that you got because that truck was front wheels and back wheels or put in someone’s driveway and you got a check out of it. Okay? Take your total gross sales, I don’t care if it’s 100,000 or 500,000, and you divide it by the amount of tickets, receipts, invoices that you wrote and you divide that. That gives you a number.
Because a lot of times, you may have a 150 dollar service call. That turns into maybe a 2000 dollar repair job. Well, you need to average that out. Maybe an average ticket is 1800 dollars. But the important thing is, are you tracking the number on the average truck? And I found numbers, numbers run from about 125 to about 400,000 dollars given the area that they’re in. you and I might be in a Cincinnati market, but you might have somebody in a no valley California area, they make a whole lot more per truck but you deal with a lot more issues. We have a much higher worker’s compensation. You have a much higher exposure to liability problems, EPA, and even traffic. You factor that all in, they’re still making 275, 300,000, 400,000, whatever it is. But you need to know what your trucks are doing in your industry. And you can compare that out. You can talk to a few people. a lot of people don’t stop and think how much their trucks bring in.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I think the reason why I find this so interesting is because I’ve never looked at it from that perspective, being mostly an upholstery, I mean for the last 10 years. It’s different. We only need one truck because we bring the work back and do it at our place, but a service truck. I can see how it directly relates to how much money you would make.
CLAY LAMB: Sure. You put miles on your truck; somebody has to pay the bills. Too often, we do it a blue jean rich way. I made maybe 200 bucks, you put that in your wallet, and think I’m making a lot of money. But you know what, somebody has got to pay for that gas, somebody has got to pay for the insurance. Somebody has got to pay for that widget or whatever you put up on the house or roofer basement. Something you put in there is a cost, it has to be calculated. That has got to be money from you and to pay your taxes. Because as the tax man is coming, I figure 20, 25 percent is not mine, it’s not going to be mine. A lot of guys put that in their pocket and they go nobody will ever know about it. But I guarantee, if you have one employee, your exposure is very high to anything that you put in your pocket and don’t claim. It can be a very serious issue down the line with interest and penalties.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: That’s a whole other subject that we need to address at another time.
CLAY LAMB: Sure.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: But taxes is a problem for all of us.
CLAY LAMB: I think even if you don’t know about, you’re a bookkeeper or whatever, 25 percent of that dollar is not going to be used in your expenditures. You may use it for short term, but eventually you’re going to liable, you’re going to be exposed to payment for that some place along when you start to actually run a business.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Yeah, I think that 20, 25 percent would be a good rule, at least to get started. You have a huge year, you’re going to pay for it next year if you’re not setting aside and planning. As far as realizing I view things a little differently because of my background being different than the type of trade that you’re in, I think that the perspective I have as far as working together and the vision I really have comes from where I get my work. I get my work fed to me from designers. I work directly to the trade, I don’t work with customers out of the yellow book because designers are my sales force. They know my pricing. I rarely quote something that I don’t get. By the time it gets to me, it’s probably going to fall either now or later. But on average, I get the job eventually, most of the time, and I don’t pay them a dime. They’re not a paid sales force; they’re on commission.
Some of them, they’re my customer, they write me a check. But then others, I’ll actually put their markup directly on what I charge the customer and then I mail them a check, but it’s not out of my pocket.
CLAY LAMB: Yeah, that’s an interesting way of doing it. Daniel, I like what you just said. They’re your sales force. I think that’s a very important concept that people are going to realize, there’s a sales force out. It may be the hardware store you’re getting your business from up the street, it could be a supply company, and yours happens to be, what? Designers. So, I think we’re generation that business yourself, but a lot of times that’s the relationship that you just pointed out.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Yes, and that’s why I wanted to touch back on it. Because I really think there’s something there, I just haven’t quite developed it. It’s not just, you know, your supplier or somebody that does. They’re in the same house. A painter might be working in the house next to you and you’re a fine carpenter. They could actually be where your work comes from next year because you’ve approached their relationship a little differently, you guys could be feeding each other. You have the same exact customer base.
CLAY LAMB: You know, it’s funny. Like you said, I’ve been around the industry for a long time. You just don’t realize. I go some place with my kids and my grandkids, they say, you know everybody. When you get to this age, you’ve been in the same industry, you should know everybody because you’ve had experience with relationships. Not everybody, you know a lot more people when you’re in your 50s and 60s than when you’re in your 30s. You might think you know a lot of people, but just wait until you’re past cross with a lot of customers. It makes a big difference. A lot of times, it’s a shoe in point. Just like the designers. You’ve worked with them for 10 years, because people are a whole lot different today, 10 years after they were in the first 1 or 2 years.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: And which leads me to say the obvious. Especially with the internet these days you build a reputation, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. You need to work on that reputation.
CLAY LAMB: Well, reputation is one thing, but I am a strong believer in Google reviews.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Very interesting, I have not put much thought into that.
CLAY LAMB: It is crucial. If you take a moment and look up any industry and try to look who spent time nurturing relationships to build reviews? We have over 100 reviews and there’s no one in my city that comes close to me before. Because we went out of our way to build that relationship and tell them how important reviews are to us. And you can’t buy a review, but you can build a relationship for a review.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: And at what point is it okay to ask for the review?
CLAY LAMB: I don’t know if it’s wrong to say it right off the bat, because I’d think it’s amazing how many people do business with us because they read our reviews online. We get that all the time. I think the two mystery market systems is number one, reviews and reputation. Number two is assigning to your truck, your outbound service man.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Outbound service, I like that. That actually paints a very clear picture in the difference between what I do and then an outbound service truck. I think that actually clears some of the questions up in my head as far as how do I define the difference? So that being said, the reviews, that’s an online presence that you’re creating there. Is there any other way that a small brick and mortar business should be developing their online presence that you would recommend right off the bat?
CLAY LAMB: Online presence, I don’t you’re going to do any better—you can buy the Google AdWords and things like that, I think you have to buy a small method to get started. But you want to get over to an organic review as quick as they can. I think that really helps people believe what they’re seeing from Joe Blow, the guy they paid to work 6 months or 7 months ago, they can clearance right through it if it’s a stacked or loaded review, or if it’s something speaking from your heart.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: What about a FaceBook page, is that something you’d recommend?
CLAY LAMB: I think FaceBook pages are really good, but here’s what I found. I think FaceBook is really about your family and friends, and LinkedIn is putting my back to their knowledge of industry. Still, hands down, I would put all my energy—and it’s maybe because I haven’t built that culture for us as a company, as FaceBook culture, we do have a website and we have a lot of information coming out. But I can’t say FaceBook is really generative to me. And I think FaceBook can actually suck a lot of time out of you as far as your management, because it’s like emails. You have to discipline yourself not to do it, not to check your FaceBook, not to check your email, because it sucks so much life out of your day.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Talking with lots of small business owners, I think that their go to idea of starting to use marketing and getting online is FaceBook, but from the other end of it, you and I are both working on building podcasts and developing our own online presence. I’ve heard so much that FaceBook is kind of going away as far as being as powerful as it was, so I would have to totally agree with you on where you put your efforts.
CLAY LAMB: Well, here’s another thing. You need to know who your audience is. Who is the person writing that check? What is their average age? What industry are they in? where do they live? When I say that, we have a very wealthy area Indian Hill, here in Cincinnati. Well that’s not my market. I like cul de sac marketing—other words, houses that were built after World War II, that utilize the land and there’s a dead end cul de sac, there’s more houses. But, you have to be careful: what cul de sac are you going to into? Because the average income—what are they doing? And you can get these numbers off Haines Criss Cross, Yellow Pages, directories out of a library. You need to know what your average household is, and that really helps you to market and focus your advertising, reach magazine or market magazine if you’re going to use a printed vehicle.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So what I’m taking away from that is, know your customer.
CLAY LAMB: Yeah, you need to learn who it is. And here’s the interesting—when you said FaceBook, I think FaceBook is a pretty broad spectrum of ages where you have Instagram which is poor beta, probably a 30ish something. Now for me to spend money in an Instagram arena, for building my customer base, I don’t think I’m there yet. I think I might be there in a couple of years, four, five years out there. I still believe good old internet—I say good old internet, but… I really feel that internet presence on a good web page that is Google friendly and spending some time and energy to build communications. Writing blogs is a good thing.
We actually have a side website called Ask the Chimney Sweep, where I actually got some high school girls to take some videos for me and put them together. We put 104 videos, we currently have over 2 million downloaded views on YouTube.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Wow, that was actually the personal or the business website was going to be my next question. So put your focus in building your decently put together web page and have it look like it was from the day the internet was invented and people are going to wonder if you’re even still in business, and make it Google friendly.
CLAY LAMB: You can’t be stale, it’s got to have some life to it. It’s got to change something. The theme behind it, the way things are in your reviews.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Mobile.
CLAY LAMB: What are you doing to change that? Oh yeah, mobile friendly, oh my gosh.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I think that’s a must these days.
CLAY LAMB: It is, because if it doesn’t size properly for a mobile iPad or a phone in ad desktop, Google is going to ding it.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Oh, that’s interesting. So Google—is going to be punished as far as its algorithms are, if it’s not mobile friendly?
CLAY LAMB: That’s what I’m hearing a lot. We just went out of our way to spend some money to do that, to make sure that it would size properly on a phone because the customers today—you know it’s interesting. A lot of 40, 50, 60 year old women are buying iPhones and Note 4s and 5s and 6s now.
So you’re getting a whole different clientele, using your phone, and getting comfortable with it. It’s interesting because my wife is not a tech at all, but she listens to podcasts all the time. She doesn’t do Gmail, or any email, but she texts all the time to family members. And she’s not a young chicken. She’s a very astute lady and what she likes to do, which is, I guess the texting movement called, in podcast.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I was about to stop you, I thought you were going to say her age.
CLAY LAMB: I’m not that dumb.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Haha! Because she listens to podcasts, so she might stumble onto this.
CLAY LAMB: Yes…
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Haha!
CLAY LAMB: We just have to be alert as a business company, you know, you’ve got really two fronts. Number one, you have to be on the front when you’re in front of the customer. If you want to call Angie’s List, the BBB, Google. Whatever form you have. And you have to understand, west coast, east coast are two different markets as far as what’s hot, what’s not. As far as Yelp, you have a much stronger presence on the East coast and West coast than you do in Middle America.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Really?
CLAY LAMB: Yes, very much so.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Would you say any of them have been beneficial to you?
CLAY LAMB: I’m still a firm believer Google does most the searches. I think you’re in 60, 65 percent of the search up engines. Whatever it is, I don’t care if you use Yelp or whatever it is. Do something with somebody, right there, get it straightened out. What are you going to use? Are you going to use Yelp, then you have to get that audience. But my dollar is really spent on Google. I buy Google AdWords and I go out of my way to do this. Now I’m seeing a strong, strong motivation with Angie’s List.
There’s some things I like and I don’t like with Angie’s List, but it’s something you’re going to contend with as a home contractor. One thing I tell you, I find Angie’s List, Angie’s List customer has a hired average ticket price.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So you track everything?
CLAY LAMB: I try to. I really try to.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Most of us don’t. So you’re saying that’s key though.
CLAY LAMB: It’s one of the keys. You’re just—indicators. What runs your business? I’m not a real numbers guy, I might sound like it. I enjoy statistics, but I have to get surrounded around people that know how to index a field so we can put that proper information in it, so we can capture what to do with it.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: How do we boil that down? You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going?
CLAY LAMB: I would say that’s a simple analogy. That’s a great analogy. Where have you been? But you need to look back at history. To predict the future, you’ve got to look a little bit back. Like, okay, my average ticket on a truck was this, my average ticket on the service ban was this. And you can do it by season or month. You’ve got to take the personality out of it. It might be your brother or in law, but you still have to have that truck kicking for you. But then there’s people who become so dominant in running your trucks, but they still have to generate cash. Well, that truck has got to generate cash for your business. If they don’t, you need to figure out somebody else to get into that truck.
Here’s the other thing is: You can have too many trucks. Because the more trucks you have, let’s say 4, 5 or 6. And I’ve had a lot of trucks. But I find the layers of management become extremely expensive. Sometimes a guy running one, two, three trucks is making more net profit than five, six, or seven trucks.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Yeah, I think knowing when to grow and how to grow is very smart. So adding three more trucks at once may not be your best move.
CLAY LAMB: No. I’ll give you an analogy, someone says, “I’ve got an aunt that wants to dump 20,000 dollars in business, what should I do with it?” Well, I sure wouldn’t be going out and buying a brand new truck. That would not be—if I need to repair a truck, maybe. But if I need one truck for myself and I was just a solo entrepreneur, I might to do that. but I really have to think, where are you going to drop that 20 grand? What are you going to do with it? Cash flow is cash flow. You’ve got to have cash flow coming in all the time, one way or the other.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So getting another crew up and running is not necessarily where you dump your extra money?
CLAY LAMB: It may be. I have to really analyze it, for me, what do I need most? Right now, I’m probably going to add more trucks on. I’m probably ready to do that again.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: That’s a great answer. It’s not a solid answer across the board; it depends on the numbers.
CLAY LAMB: Yeah, what you feel. But you’ve got to take this I want thing, or take the ego out of it. I need another truck with my name slapped all over it so everybody thinks I’m big. That’s not going to cut it for you.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: How many trucks are you up to these days?
CLAY LAMB: We’re up to 6 trucks right now. I used to have 11, but I didn’t like the numbers that were going on with it, and kind of back, intentionally, all the way down. But I also grew another business with it in the business, which was the online business which is my fireplace and chimney supply which sells water repellents and products like that.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Does that help the ups and downs a little bit, through the year?
CLAY LAMB: It takes some of it out, yes, because you think the seasonality of your area it is, but if you’re selling product to people on the west coast and down south, you’ve got a longer seasonality to it.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So it directly ties into your other business in addition to, but the seasons are different links possibly?
CLAY LAMB: That’s exactly what you asked me earlier. The question was, what about the seasonality? Well, what are you going to do to take that bump out of the road? It could be online product or services, or figuring out how you could add trucks or take away trucks. It’s the formula, I call it clutching. I don’t know if you ever drove a stick shift vehicle, a lot of people haven’t. But you’re always, you’re always trying when to shift gears, when to do something. That’s what your business is like.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: That’s a great analogy, clutching. Did you just come up with that?
CLAY LAMB: No, I’ve always thought that way. Since I train my kids to drive stick shift, I drove stick shift as a kid, I taught my wife how to drive a stick shift. You know, I’ve always trained that term. Find a friction point, she scares the go, down shift. That’s business too. Every day. You have a good point. It could be weather. I’m very weather elated. I mean, not this year but the year before, we got stuck in a frozen tundra here, if you want to call it. January, February, March. And it really took a big hit on us.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Yeah, I was there for that. I didn’t move to Columbia until April.
CLAY LAMB: You’re smart, haha!
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: No, I miss the warm winter and came down here for just the heat.
CLAY LAMB: I’ll come down and visit you in January, February, March. Do what you’re doing. Listen to your podcast. Find out what Smart Tradesman are doing, because it’s hearing the voices of other people. I call it eat the fish and spit the bone. There’s something that you’re going to say, oh I like that, I’m going to chew on that. If you don’t like that, spit it out and go for another piece. But there’s always different voices out there, especially with podcast today. You can get so much information. And I pretty much refuse to listen to just regular radio, and I don’t watch regular television anymore. In fact, I’m watching more internet educational things. Ted Talk for entertainment, another person I walk in on. Just to learn. And it’s more than just the trade.
It’s not just the carpenter, plumber, electrician. It’s running a business. How are you going to run your business? How are you going to market? How are you going to advertise? How are you going to meet that customer? What are you going to do? How are you going to consummate that sell? How are you going to contact that person and build a relationship with them down the field so you can get them again?
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: You know, I believe that a lot of my listeners are probably new to podcasts and I hope that they hear people on my show and then they just fall in love with podcasts like I did, and they just start learning. Because I rarely listen to the radio now. I just am learning constantly about business and self development. Speaking of podcasts though, you have one in the pipeline coming towards us. Tell us about that one.
CLAY LAMB: Sure, well I started an operation called home contractors HQ. I actually have 14 interviews in the can. These are contractors from all over the country, different industries, and it hadn’t hit the market yet. I planned to be up and running sometime in September 15 here, after I get my surgery done this summer because I’ve got some serious issues with some knee replacement. Then I can get rocking with that, get the podcast going because after this, Daniel, it always sound like you’re bragging when you’re talking about your company. We’ve had 104,000 service calls in 34 years.
I’ve been to the mountain, I’ve been to the valley. But I can save a lot of people a lot of headaches if they learn just from what I call the grunt knowledge. What do you learn from somebody? Just sitting around the coffee table, just talking a little bit with people? There’s a lot of knowledge on these guys. Just when you’re getting a coffee, any kind of quick place to have a coffee and just listen to them. I’m all for podcasts now, and I think you’re going to see more and more of us out there. You’re running Smart Tradesman, I’m running home contractors HQ. And it’s not a competition. It’s like music. How many different albums could you listen to? I know there’s a lot of different. And there’s a lot of voices out there that we all need to listen to.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: And there’s not competition, I really hope to work closely together as we move forward.
CLAY LAMB: Oh yeah. I can see it. There’s 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 of us that we go and have a conference some place and just talk about things. Or we bring other people, maybe like marketing people, or labor contractors, lawyers. Somebody to help you grow your business because there’s always the new question on the frontline, there’s always a new frontier that we have to conquer. That new regulation we have to surmount and figure how we’re going to get around it, what are we going to do with it?
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I recently had the pleasure of talking to Christie Hustler, I believe you’re also connected with her.
CLAY LAMB: Yeah.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: She has some amazing things going on for local businesses in podcasting, and it could be something that we could all start working together, because I would love to encourage some of these local businesses to get into podcasting themselves on the recording side, not just listening.
CLAY LAMB: Yeah, yeah. I think there will be a day that people rent studios are not going to do the technical side. I think you and I enjoy the tech side of this; a lot of people won’t, but they still have a message. They have an important message to share with the world. You have to remember, podcasts aren’t just in a local city or state, or even a nation. They’re all over the world.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: And they’re only getting bigger.
CLAY LAMB: Yeah!
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: The barrier to entry will never be as easy as it is now, I believe.
CLAY LAMB: I totally agree. It will change, so let’s hope we get grandfathered in with ideas.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Haha! Let’s hope. Speaking of working together, tell us—I think we just skipped right over it. You developed or started a mastermind, back before mastermind was such a hot topic on online forums and these things these days. Tell us what you did back in the day, if that doesn’t offend you, back in the day.
CLAY LAMB: I don’t mind, yeah. First off, I’m 65 years old, and I’m very fortunate. Bless the lord I’m healthy enough that I can do stuff. I get up and I get a kick out of working. I enjoy going to work. You know, work is an obsession to me like it is. I can’t climb ladders like I used to, but I still get a kick out of growing a business. But probably just as much as helping somebody grow their business. The mastermind idea, we call it a MIX. I actually it a Management Information Exchange. MIX—management information exchange. So in my industry, which is the chimney trade industry, chimney sweeps and fireplace repair people, I went out and I contacted probably about 60 different companies.
Well about 45 of these companies said, yes we’d like to join a MIX group and that was just based on a principle, when you go to a convention, the biggest amount of information most people share is in hallways. What you learn from somebody else, about a truck or service calls, a friendship you kindle, a relationship with it. So, I said, I’m going to take these 45 companies, I’m going to break it into 3 groups. And they have to be 90 miles away from each other. So I broke these groups up and I put them together then I actually facilitated these groups. I set up a hotel. We come in on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Thursday was kind of meet the company, we’d come into the company and we’d kind of learn a little bit about the marketing in there, what the competition was. And then we’d actually next morning, we’d interview their employees. We’d look at their facilities. And I didn’t care if we worked at their basement or palatial state—they had the same problems. So the mixed group concept was to critique them—walk away with a war plan, so that when we left, they had something to change their business with.
So we’d spend that whole day, and we call it SWOT—strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats. And you fill these papers out and hand them all over the room. What are the strengths of your companies? What are the threats? Strengths, weaknesses? What are the weaknesses? Maybe too much inventory. That was a big problem for a lot of people. Way too much inventory. Opportunities, you know, maybe you need to go across a river, across a bridge and pick up more business. Or threats, you have internal problems in your company, or you have a competitor, or maybe you’re trying to do it all yourself and you need to learn to develop employees.
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. SWOT. We did that. So when we walked away, we might bring in some other trainers or something like that. It depends how I want to run that meeting. But the opportunity was for these people to grow their business and they all love them. And I did that. I travel for I guess, 4, 5 years, and I turned it to another gal. Her name is Hope Stevenson. She does a phenomenal job. She has the same groups; they’ve expanded, some people replace. But she’s come into 5 or 6 groups and she travels to each one of these groups twice a year in a different city. It might be 12 members, 15 members, you’ll go to all 15 cities. So it’s a great opportunity to see the country, learn a lot about other people’s business or problems and their strengths or weaknesses. They can turn and when you come back, wow.
One my goals is always this, Daniel. Whenever I go some place, I’m looking for what’s going to pay my bill. There’s something I can learn here that I can take back and incorporate in my business. It could be the database for the computer, it could be a new computer, it could be furniture, it could be the truck arrangements of where they store things, additional products they sell, but I was looking for it. There’s something here that’s going to pay my ticket.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I don’t think enough of us are actually getting together and getting an outside perspective or learning from either people in the same industry in a different area, or even just across industries.
CLAY LAMB: Well one of the things you have to be careful of in a MIX group is some guys are A personalities. And entrepreneurs by trade, normally, are one thing about trade, but there are some guys that just have so much information and they don’t share it. But there’s some guys who have so much information, and they just don’t stop talking. So, you have to have a facilitator that has the skill to draw that out of the weak points and bring that to the table because they could be your best A players, and they have more wisdom, knowledge. They may have the highest average sect, the highest profitability. In a facilitated mastermind, that’s the key. Is to be able to pull those deep things from deep within a man, and pull them up and get them up on a table.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: So I’d like to pull, just some tidbits of information that are I think key focuses of our conversation. And what I’ve learned so far from you is how important it is to first of all know your customer, but then I think it’s also knowing those around you and what they have to offer, look for value in other people’s experiences and learn from them, things that you can take and pay your bills with.
CLAY LAMB: It couldn’t be said any better than that. There’s value in everybody. You just got to find it, and utilize it, and implement it.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Know when you need help and don’t be afraid to look at your relationship with another tradesman as a source of income, potentially.
CLAY LAMB: Well, I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and I guarantee I can sit down with you and have a cup of coffee. And we’d be talking and I’d just say, that’s really an interesting concept. Or when you go to one of your other cities and you see what they’re doing—that’s an interesting approach. It doesn’t always have to be a cookie cutter way of doing it, especially with different markets that we all service. But you’ve got to figure out what it is; how you’re going to change. Again that goes back to always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got. What are you going to do to change it?
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I really like that saying. I think we’ll leave it at that.
CLAY LAMB: Okay. Hey Daniel, it’s been a pleasure talking with you buddy. Next time you’re rolling through Cincinnati, I’ve got to take you to my favorite hamburger place. You know the king of the entrepreneur, let’s find the king of the hamburgers again.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Yeah, you took me to the last one, but then you changed venues.
CLAY LAMB: And you know what, I think I’ve got another one too, so we’re ready.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I got a lot of hamburgers to eat.
CLAY LAMB: You know, eat the fish and spit the bone. Learn something from somebody.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I might as well be knowledgeable about hamburgers.
CLAY LAMB: Haha, okay!
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Haha! Tell us where we can find you. I know you’re not up and running yet, but those that want to hear from you; where can they find you?
CLAY LAMB: I’m going to give you a couple of things. If you want to attach to show notes; one is AMChimney@gmail.com, that’s my personal one. AMChimney@gmail.com. AMChimney.com is my website. I also have a very interesting website we put together called AskTheChimneySweep.com. That could be utilized in anybody’s industry to create videos, and I’d be glad to talk with someone about how to create videos and put it together. And I guess Fireplace and Chimney Supplies is my other one.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: AskTheChimneySweep.com—that’s the one I really want listeners to visit and take note of, because any of us that have so much knowledge to offer. That would be a way to start giving to your customer, and then get business back in return.
CLAY LAMB: You know a lot of people say, why don’t you get money off that? You can put Google AdWords. I said, that’s fine. But sometimes you just have to give to get. You would not believe how many times that I’ve sent an email attachment with one of my videos on it, and people are like, oh now I understand how you’re going to drop that liner. Oh, now I understand why you’re going to mix these bricks and get the color range. They understand that stuff finally.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: I never thought about using it to make the sale, or at least educating your customers so they know why you’re charging what you’re charging.
CLAY LAMB: I call it educational site. I think it’s more of an educational site than anything. Yeah, it tells a lot about you and your company, but speak to the guy in another part of the country that’s never used your service, and you’re clearly communicating it, and you’ve got a good video, and you should probably less in a minute and a half. And you can do that. That’s a lot of time to do that.
One of the key things I’ll tell you people do, put folders on your computer, and grab all the different photos that you take. Not somebody else takes; that you take and put them in a folder. And then actually start taking a few videos. The videos should have hit what they call handles on it. Let’s say it’s a 10 second—just take 10 seconds to get a little bit of video to start with, a little bit to end with. And you just take the meat in the middle, and dump it into a video, how to do something. How to up at deck on. How to load a hammer. Whatever. Whatever it is. You create something.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Teach your customer what it is that you do and you’re not in a position where you’re have to fear that they’re going to do it themselves because they wouldn’t be your customer anyways. They’re just going to understand what you’re doing and why you’re charging what you’re charging.
CLAY LAMB: You know, that confirms what a gentleman by the name of Gary Sullivan. He’s a national know nut, a celebrity on a how to radio show, very, very well known. Gary Sullivan. And I was on the show one time. He said, Clay, 95 percent of these people will never do the things they ask about. They just want to be able to ask their service man the question and have the right answer before they’re answering. They want to know what you’re talking about. So what you’re doing is educating your customer.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Oh, that’s very powerful. Yeah, I like that. Well, Clay, it’s been fun. Thank you so much, and I look forward to having you back on, and hopefully being a guest on your show.
CLAY LAMB: Oh, I definitely want you. You have a lot of insight, a lot to share with me. Give me a call, we’ll get together and definitely do another podcast together, okay?
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: See how I just invited myself onto your show?
CLAY LAMB: Brother, you’re welcome to. I have a good relationship with you, and I like you because you pull things together and you care about other people and you’re trying to make other things grow for other people. That’s what it’s about; giving to other people. If you give enough other people, you’ll get what you want in life.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: Perfect. Thanks so much, Clay.
CLAY LAMB: See you my friend, talk to you later.
DANIEL ERIC BOWLING: All right you Smart Tradesman, you group of go getters, Smart Tradesman nation. Did you walk away with some great insights that you can apply to your business? If the answer is no, then you weren’t’ listening, because there was so many takeaways that you could’ve walked away with. In fact, when I was going through this episode listening to it to edit it, I was just so excited to get it out to you so that you can hear everything that clay has to offer. I’ll be sure to let you know when Clay’s podcast launches in September. But in the mean time, be sure to check him out through any of the links that he gave you, or reach out to him on his personal email which he was so gracious and kind to give to us.
I loved how Clay talked about how he doesn’t even listen to the radio anymore; he’s just so addicted to learning and bettering his business. One resource that we didn’t really touch on much is audio books. If you’re like me, you don’t get to reading all that often. But there’s no reason that you should do without all of the knowledge and insight that is out there in all these amazing books to help you grow your business and help you succeed. You can listen to audio books as well as podcasts. I’ve been driving back and forth in Cincinnati, and my 8 hour drives go by so quick.
I’ve had multiple people talk about, that 8 hour drive has to suck! Well, I have to admit that it might be kind of sad, but that8 hour drive has been my favorite part of my weeks for a while because when I’m traveling, I’m traveling for work. Once I get there, it’s all work all the time. From the time I wake up to the time I sleep. And when I’m trying back, I have nowhere else I have to be except for just on the road, headed home, and I know that what awaits me when I get home is returning emails and calling people back and all the administrative follow-up stuff that I’m not looking forward to.
But during that drive, it’s my time to just sit there and listen and learn and enjoy. So if you want to check out an audio book as well, I’ll link to it in resources and also in the show notes. You can always find it in the resource page. Audiobooks.com is what I use, and I believe that if you go through my affiliate link, get you a free book to listen to. If you need recommendations and reach out to me, I can tell you which ones to start with, because there are certainly some great books out there that really have changed my perspective and how I approach what it is that we call small business.
If you could do me a huge favor, please subscribe to the podcast so you can get every new episode directly to your smartphone without even having to search for it. And then also go to iTunes and leave me a rating and review. That is the very best way that you can help me reach others who need to hear the message that I am trying to spread. So until next time, thank you once again for joining me on Smart Tradesman, the podcast. Peace out.