“It was the most incredibly devastating experience ever,” says Lawton, who went on to start her own full-service company, TLC Staffing. “So five weeks later, I was in my own business because of the unprofessional way in which they treated me. I had such support from all of my former clients that every single one of them came with me.”
The experience is still fresh in Lawton’s memory, and she often draws on it in her interactions with clients, job candidates and staff. She has succeeded by treating people well, and her courteous manner and thoughtful business practices have enabled the firm to grow revenue from $9.5 million in 2004 to $11.4 million in 2005.
Smart Business spoke with Lawton about how to build a good relationship and reputation with customers and employees.
How do you create customer loyalty?
When we first started the business what made it so popular was the way we treated people. I didn’t care if you weren’t qualified to do diddlysquat if you gave us the time and the courtesy to come in and fill out an application for us, we certainly gave it back to you with dignity and with a good interview.
You have to treat people fairly and with a great deal of respect. And people sense that in you. That’s nothing you can fake. They know when you’re genuine. That word gets around.
We have to be very consistent in what we do. And you have to consistently deliver what you say you can deliver. You have to be like a willow tree and be so darn flexible you can’t believe it.
What you never change is your core value. You can change the way you approach things and the way you do things, but you can never change that core value, which is treating people well and being consistent in that.
How else can you build a positive reputation for your company?
I am a huge advocate of community involvement. And I’m very visible that way. You don’t want to be the best-kept secret in town. And if you don’t have a lot of advertising money, how are they going to know who you are?
If you’re going to be active, make sure that you’re active with people who will be able to use your services. And I don’t mean go out there and tap on their shoulder at every cocktail party and say, ‘This is what I do, and this is what I want you to do for me.’
They see that you work hard and that you care about your community and other people. Because they know you, it’s going to work.
How do you motivate and empower employees?
We hire people who are qualified enough that we don’t micromanage them. I think that’s the kiss of death.
If you’re in the business to tell people (what to do) every single day ... you’re not going to make it. If they’re getting the results that we require of them, then we leave them alone.
Nobody’s ever chastised. Everybody falls flat on their face from time to time. It’s human nature. (My job is to ask), ‘How can we help make it better?’
We’ve got a big ship’s bell outside our COO’s office, and anybody that does anything gets to ring that bell. And everybody comes out (to see what the occasion is).
A placement, a brand-new company just called, whatever we celebrate everything.
That sometimes means on a Friday afternoon firing up the blender and having Bloody Marys and margaritas.
What one thing can hinder a company’s growth?
The big black eye is lack of operating capital. My biggest problem in the first two years that I was in business was funding the growth. It’s a common story.
For the first two years, banks will not speak to you. You are just a nonentity until you have two solid years of good financial statements behind you. And then they start you with baby steps.
How do you combat that?
Never give up. Wherever your personal checking account is, let (the bank) know, ‘I’m in business now, and I’m going to need this.’ Wherever you start your business banking, before you even ask for loans, you need to be credible, you need to be friendly and warm.
And as soon as they trust you, that’s when you’re going to get that level of respect back.
There are three people that have to be your best friends all throughout your business career. That’s a banker, an attorney and a CPA. So you start building those relationships.
HOW TO REACH: TLC Staffing, www.tlcstaffing.com