5 Lessons from My Family's Business that Will Strengthen You as a Professional

By: Erica Stritch

I grew up in a small tourist town in southern Maine where my parents owned and managed a motel. Growing up in a family business and working at the motel taught me a number of lessons. In particular, there are five lessons I learned that apply to professional services marketing, selling, and management.

My parents always put an emphasis on personal relationships. They built strong relationships with guests. These relationships kept folks coming back year after year. (Every Friday night my parents took one of the repeat guests out to dinner.) And they built strong bonds with their staff. They genuinely cared about (and sometimes for) the employees and, in turn, the employees would regularly go above and beyond the call of duty.

Professional services marketing, selling, and management is all about relationships. If you put people first and allow this philosophy to drive the rest of your decisions everything else will fall in line. Go above and beyond for people, and you will have a group of people working with you who go above and beyond for you, each other, and your clients.

Professional service clients expect excellent client service and technical competence. But these are just the price of entry. What can you do above and beyond "doing good work" that will help you compete?

It's as easy as saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if you all vacationed together next year?" Or, "Why doesn't your cousin Joe who is staying down the road, stay here? It would be much more convenient for you all, and wonderful to have him."

It's nice when they do, but as a rule you shouldn't expect clients and prospects to connect the dots between people they know who might need your services and you. Ask questions, and ask for referrals.

Regardless of your job description, helping out your teammates goes a long way. This may mean staying late or working on the weekends to get a project done, or proofreading that big proposal, or helping a colleague out with a mundane task. As a leader at a professional services organization (or aspiring leader), you set the example that all others will follow. Provide support and help out in any way possible.

  1. Always put the people first: Staff, clients, prospects—if you put the people first everything else will fall in line.
  2. The price of entry only gets you so far: The cleanliness of our rooms, having amenities guests want, and our location got us only so far. In the hospitality business, such things are the price of entry. Without having these things you won't survive in the business very long, but having them only gets you to the starting gate.
  3. Ask for referrals: Referrals were the top way our guests found out about our motel. Repeat customers were our greatest source of business. As my parents built a relationship with each guest, they got know the guests, their extended families, and friends, and they were not shy about asking for the referral.
  4. Everyone needs to pitch in: On any given day you would find my mother making beds to help out the housekeeping team, painting a wall in a room, or fielding calls during the busy hours in the office. As the owner/manager, she set an example for me and the rest of the staff that everyone needs to pitch in and help out to get things done.
  5. Be genuine: None of this works if you are not genuine. People can tell when you care, are serious about building relationships, and are giving your all to be the best you can be.

By following these lessons, my parents built and ran a successful family business for 24 years. This past year, my parents sold the motel. My parents left the new ownership with a full staff, and steady flow of reservations from repeat business and referrals for which my parents had worked so hard over the years.

One summer season has now come and gone. The new owners kept the rooms clean, and the location and amenities are the same. Yet the new owners have managed to undo all of the good work by focusing only on the price of entry, and not on the relationships that made the business strong.

The guests have called my parents and let them know that the new owners didn't seem to care about them and they're not coming back. The core staff have all left (same reason), and everyone around town knows why.

These lessons are among the many I've learned from my parents. I hope that in sharing them, these lessons help you to grow as an individual and a business leader as much as they have helped me.

And remember, RainToday...Dark by Midnight.

Erica Stritch is General Manager of RainToday and Vice President at RAIN Group, a sales training, sales assessment, and sales performance improvement company that helps leading organizations improve sales results. Contact her at estritch@raingroup.com.