“In the early 90’s, a young man, Terry, approached me thirsty for knowledge and hungry for success. Ever since then, I’ve been mentoring him into the greatest contracting mentor of all time.”
The industry legend that trained industry legends, Terry Nicholson is back! Chief Success Officer for PRAXIS S-10, Terry joins To The Point for the second time to go further into his incredible career and what he’s learned that can help you grow your business. If you didn’t catch our previous episode with Terry, be sure to do so first!
We asked Terry about the biggest change he’s seen in the trades in his many decades in the industry, and his answer? Advertising!
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, if you wanted to be found as a contractor, there was only one real answer: the Yellow Pages. Most of us remember flipping through that big yellow book, searching for an ad that grabbed our attention. HVAC companies would have a picture of a truck, and plumbers had a pipe wrench. There wasn’t a whole lot of diversity. Enter John Young, one of Jim Abram’s right-hand men.
Young called these generic Yellow Page ads “wasted real estate”, and would completely change the format of advertising in the HVAC industry. He would write lengthy ad copy with no pictures, and the Yellow Pages even tried to talk some Contractors’ Success Group members out of running them. Still, these ads proved to be highly effective. One ad in particular, a quarter-page slot that simply read “This Small Ad Saves You Money”. It went on to suggest that if you picked any company with a bigger ad, you were going to have to pay more because of the cost of their giant ads. The ad was so powerful that some local Yellow Pages wouldn’t even run it due to concerns over it making their other customers unhappy because of just how effective it was.
While the Yellow Pages cast a wide net, direct mail and marketing was a more targeted approach that John Young brought into the industry. At its peak, direct marketing was a billion-dollar form of advertising! Unlike other direct mailers that were a page with pictures and phone numbers, Young’s direct mail were these long, 4-8 page letters. Contractors were hesitant to run them, telling Young “no one is going to read that”. Young’s response? “You’re right…just the people that are going to buy from us!”
After Leland Smith sold his first business and retired, he came and became a member of the Contractors’ Success Group. In his first year, he did over $4,000,000. This was a brand new company from scratch with all new customers. Terry brought Leland up on stage that year to talk about what he did and how he did it and got to the questions about advertising. Leland explained that it was simple, saying “Guys, I’m not too smart. I can’t do a lot of things extremely well, so I decided to do a few things really well. If I want maintenance leads, I run this ad that John Young wrote for me. If I want replacement leads, I run this letter right here that John Young wrote for me. All I do is run these two ads every month, 12 months out of the year, and we make sure that we execute at a very high level”.
As service companies grew, the budget for advertising naturally came along and radio advertisements started to become a focus. TV followed shortly after, and all of the biggest companies in the trades were running TV spots. However, the biggest evolution of them all still hadn’t happened.
The real game changer, of course, was branding. John Young had started focusing on branding when Service Experts was launched, but it wasn’t something Jim and Terry were teaching yet because a lot of their companies just weren’t big enough for it to make much sense. It did become a need pretty quickly, however, and that’s where the story of Roy Williams comes in.
Roy was running advertisements for a jewelry company out in Kansas City where Young lived, and John thought Roy would be great to bring onboard as a branding expert. Roy wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, thinking that IAQ and HVAC services were a bunch of snake oil. He wanted to sell things that “people actually liked”, such as diamond rings and fancy necklaces. Things that actually made people happy. Jim and John were smart and listened to Roy. During their meeting, Roy mentioned offhandedly that he had an IAQ problem in his home. Jim and John immediately contacted one of their members and paid to have them send a tech right out to Roy’s house and solve the problem. Roy bought in, and called a week later to admit that it certainly wasn’t snake oil; it had solved the issue completely. But that still wasn’t enough to bring him onboard. What really sealed the deal was finding out through Roy’s assistant that he was a big wine connoisseur. A very expensive case of wine later, Roy called to join the team, and the rest is history.
Roy Williams was quickly introduced to industry legends including Ken Goodrich, Leland Smith, Dave Geiger, and many others. This was a powerful room who were learning the message of turning their companies into a form of branding advertisement, and it’s apparent in hindsight that this was an incredibly impactful event.
You simply have to be good at branding in our industry. If you look at all of the major players in the trades, they all have become masters in branding. This evolution has changed the trades permanently, and you can’t find a big company that doesn’t understand branding principles. You also can’t build one without this knowledge. The fundamentals of branding really haven’t changed over the years. It’s a simple formula of grabbing attention, entertaining and/or informing, and then convincing your audience to take action.
When Terry talks to contractors, they usually have one of two problems. It’s either that they can’t find good help, or they can’t find good marketing. Terry usually tells people that those things might be true, but gives them a poem to help illustrate an important point.
“A lion met a tiger
As they drank beside a pool
Said the tiger, “tell me why…
You’re roaring like a fool.”
“That’s not foolish;” said the lion,
with a twinkle in his eyes,
“They call me king of all the beasts
because I advertise!”
A rabbit heard them talking,
and ran home like a streak.
He thought he’d try the lion’s plan,
but his roar was just a squeak.
A fox, who happened on the scene,
had a fine lunch in the woods.
The Moral? When you advertise,
just be sure you’ve got the goods.”
So many contractors think the answers to these problems are more advertising or more technicians. The reality is, most of them have enough marketing, enough calls, enough opportunities, and enough revenue. The actual issue is that they don’t know how to maximize their opportunities and revenue! This is something that Terry teaches called “maximum yield”. This is how to take the exact number of calls and dispatch them into the right hands. This process often results in a 2x or 3x jump in revenue without putting a single dollar more into advertising!
To understand PRAXIS S-10 and the real impact that Terry has had on our industry, you first have to know the story of Jimmy Hiller. Jimmy was a $200,000 contractor with $230,000 in debt when Terry met him. He was basically bankrupt, but was too stubborn to know it. Searching for help, he came to Terry and wrote a check that he asked Terry not to cash for a week. Terry waited a few days extra, and the check went through.
The thing was, Jimmy knew what he was doing wasn’t working. It wasn’t because he wasn’t working his ass off, he just needed direction. After learning under Jim and Terry, things quickly turned around. Today, Jimmy Hiller is running a $125,000,000 regional powerhouse based in Nashville, TN. Jimmy was the best student, and incredibly humble and wise. He partnered with Jim Abrams and Terry in the creation of PRAXIS S-10 and continues to share what he’s learned with members even today. This serves as an opportunity for members to go and see Jim and Terry’s best practices in action!
PRAXIS S-10 is more than a name, it’s a core value. “Praxis” is not an acronym, but rather a word that means the application of proven knowledge. The “S” in S-10 stands for success, and the 10 is a 10 on a 1-10 scale of victory. When you put it all together, it means the proven application of real-world principles that will help you improve and build a better business.
It’s not hype, it’s not theory. What PRAXIS S-10 teaches is time-tested wisdom and practices that will work. You can go and see Jimmy Hiller’s business in person to see these principles being implemented in real-time if you aren’t convinced.
The other main component of PRAXIS S-10 is strategic mentoring. PRAXIS S-10 isn’t a best practices organization that gives you a handful of ways to do things. PRAXIS helps people identify what they want to accomplish out of their business as a vehicle to get what they want out of life, and then strategically mentors members to plan and execute to get exactly that.
This industry is called “The Great Dream Killer” for a reason. You start out one day full of enthusiasm and energy with visions of grandeur, wealth, and being your own boss. Reality sets in, and the business kicks the snot out of you. People often lower their expectations, telling themselves white lies like “hey, I’m my own boss at least”, and “I have everything I ever wanted”.
If you’ve been in this industry for any length of time, you’re a good contractor. Not a lot of people can hang for long. The problem is, it’s a tough industry. It’s competitive. It WILL give you more than you can handle on your own time after time. With PRAXIS S-10, you have experts giving you strategic mentoring and proven principles that have worked for countless others and continue to work today. PRAXIS S-10 helps contractors figure out where they are, what they want, and provides the tools, mentoring, and principles to use your business as a vehicle to get EXACTLY what you want out of life!
Terry believes that the best way you can improve and grow your business isn’t marketing, it’s not branding, it’s not about the industry at all. It’s understanding the difference between external focus and internal focus.
The externally focused contractor is always blaming everything and anyone else besides themselves. It’s the technicians, the call takers, the weather, the Democrats, or the Republicans. Anywhere they can point their finger other than inwards will do just fine.
The internally focused contractor accepts their situation. They understand the deficiencies in their business are their own. They understand that the faults of their people are directly tied to deficiencies in their own management skills. Who hires the people who work at your business? It’s the owner or the managers, and the owner hires the management. Who is responsible for training? The same answer applies here. And who is responsible for holding everyone accountable? If you don’t like your people, it’s a personal issue, not a people issue. YOU have a personal deficiency in your recruiting and management skills.
The average business owner does not want to accept responsibility for where and who their business is. It’s a hard pill to swallow many times. Terry references a concept that John Maxwell made famous called “The Law of Capacity”. If your business is a 3 out of 10 and you want to become an 8, you have to elevate your leadership team to an 8 just to have a chance of your business following suit. If you’re at 3 and your leadership is at a 3, you just aren’t going to make it any higher.
Any problem you have in your business, you have to be able to have an internal focus; looking inwards and admitting to yourself that the problem is yours to fix. This is how you finally identify the problem and come up with a proper solution.
History has taught Terry that every year in business, you’re going to have at least one major challenge. Some of these will include business-threatening decisions. Every business owner and leaders in an organization will be a part of either a solution or a failure to adequately address these challenges. If you’re struggling to grow and improve your business, you aren’t alone. Best of all, there are people out there who have been through the same exact scenario and are willing to help!
If you’d like to reach Terry, he has been kind enough to share his contact information with To The Point listeners! You can reach him at [email protected] as well as at 941-210 5610. He leaves us with a final poem, one he has given in every program he’s been involved with since the 90’s.
Today is here, and tomorrow will come and go
But inside you lies tremendous talents. don’t you know?
With vision, discipline, belief today
Success, joy, and happiness will come your way
The future you live tomorrow is the future you build today