August 16, 2022

8 tips on how to grow your service business according to Mike Winnet

Mike Winnet holding his chin in thought

Payaca CEO Matt Franklin recently sat down with Warrington lad, Mike Winnet - a man who sold his business for 8 million in just two and a half years - to discuss all things startups and growing your business. Mike had some valuable insights into how he created his business and his goals for his latest project, Views Are My Own.

But, given that this is a blog about trade businesses, it’s Mike's thoughts on how to manage a trade business that we found particularly interesting.

Drawing on his learnings from building his business from 0 to 8 million and then starting again with Views Are My Own, Mike had some really valuable thoughts on how his methods could be applied to the service industry.

We’ve had a listen and condensed Mike's advice down into 8 top tips that will help you grow your service business.

  1. Don't make yourself the business
  2. Set clear goals
  3. Outsource your tasks
  4. Stay focussed
  5. Know your market
  6. Answer the questions your customers are asking
  7. Don't hoard your knowledge
  8. Work harder than the rest

1. Don’t make yourself the business

The biggest problem I see with a lot of people . . . [is that many people] have essentially created a job for themselves and I think too many people realise that too late in the process.

[I]f you are Bob's boilers [for example] and it’s just you, . . . no business is going to buy Bob’s boilers from you. Because . . . everybody buys the boilers from Bob, because they know Bob. . . . Basically, you've created a job for yourself and you are the busiest person.

I was paying somebody like £64000 to be the MD . . . so when I sold the business, I could show people: here's your MD, here’s your head of sales, here is your head of marketing, this is how the business is run, and we don't do anything within that business. So I built it and employed people, and paid them top dollar, to allow me, that when it came to the sale - if I couldn't get the price that I wanted - I could negotiate the terms that benefited me the most.”

Mike’s point is clear, build a business that can function without you.

Having a business that is built around you and requires you for it to function, ultimately sets limits on what you and your business can achieve.

By building a company that can function without you, one that doesn’t rely on your own personal brand to succeed, means that you can give yourself a break and makes it far simpler for you to share your workload.

With a business that can operate and thrive independently, you massively increase the potential to scale up your business.

2. Set clear goals

This is an example of somewhere Mike feels many people fall short.

Setting a goal and having a clear path towards that goal, is an essential step in the process of achieving your business ambitions.

For your service business, this might mean taking on a certain number of clients within a set time frame or becoming the most popular painting and decorating business in your city.

Whatever it is, Mike stresses that you need clear, actionable, measurable goals that work as stepping stones along the path to that eventual bigger target.

Mike explains:

I would say, write down what your goal is . . . put a date on it. . . Write exactly how much you want. Exactly. It doesn't even have to be 10 million [or a price of any kind]. It could be: I only want to work four days a week. I want to earn ten grand a month. I want to earn ten grand a week. Whatever it might be. And then start planning how to do that.

By breaking the goal down and separating it into achievable targets, it makes the overall goal less overwhelming and helps you to measure how your business is progressing.

Without a clear idea of how you are going to achieve each target and the wider goal as a whole, it makes it very difficult, even impossible, to stay on track and achieve your business ambitions.

3. Outsource your tasks

This point relates to Mike Winnet's first piece of advice on not making yourself the centre of the business. Part of that process involves handing over your workload to other people as your service business develops.

Mike explains:

[T]he simplest task I do, is I list tasks by ten pounds, a hundred pounds, a thousand pounds.

If you're a business owner and you're doing ten-pound tasks: admin, following up, invoicing, stuff like that, that's probably one of the easiest things for you to outsource to somebody else. It might cost you twenty or thirty pounds a week, just for someone to do that for a couple of hours a week... That then frees up your time to do £100 tasks. And then once you start doing more of them, you start generating more money. You then outsource those jobs and then you've got the one thousand pound tasks and you can start outsourcing them.

So if you're finding it hard and you're not enjoying it and you seem to be busy, look at what you're doing. List all your tasks into three columns, and get rid of all the shit that you don't like doing... that's low value, because you'll find someone cheaply that will take that problem away for you.”

Mike makes it clear that a big part of making your business successful and your work manageable, is about not giving yourself too much to do. It’s important to delegate out tasks so you can free up time to focus on the more important things.

This principle is particularly key in the service industry. Many business owners find themselves trapped doing tedious tasks and admin and find they have little time to focus on the work they’re really good at. This can be a particular problem for small businesses and one-man teams.

The solution that Winnet offers is to hand that work over. If you are part of a small team, this might not seem practical. However, it is actually easy to do.

Today there is some great technology out there designed to tackle this very problem. Payaca for example allows you to automate many of your processes so you don’t have to worry about them, and makes managing your admin so much easier.

4. Stay focussed

This is the kind of advice that’s easy to agree with but harder to follow.

Staying focused may sound like something that is simple to do, but as Mike highlights, sometimes it’s more challenging than you think.

We used to say, does it make the boat go faster? . . . We were about four or five months into [our] journey. Google said, I've seen one of your animations . . . and we'd like you to work with us - and they offered us 90 grand. . . They wanted us to work exclusively for them for four months ... We turned that offer down to carry on making modules for our main catalogue of content ... to try and sell to people for £350 a month. We turned 90 grand down to do that.

[M]ost people will go, well, ‘why would you do that? Why didn’t you take the 90 grand?’ [We turned that money down] because then we would have become an employee of Google, for 90 grand, and we couldn't have reused any of that content. So it would have put us off track, off the goal.

We were laser-focused on executing the plan that we knew would work... Just do the thing that you know is going to work, at 100% effort, and execute it. Don't go and chase [something] because you might make two grand there or five grand there, or in our case, 90 grand there. We turned that down... [knowing that] when we sold and we got the multiple [we wanted, that it] would mean a lot more money than the 90 grand.

Delayed gratification.

When you’re presented with a compelling offer it can be tempting to leap at it. However, it is important to stay focussed on the things that directly support your end goal.

When you’re struggling and you’re going through tough times with your business, it can be easier to jump at instant solutions. The point that Mike makes is that by waiting and staying focused on your goals, you can receive a bigger payoff down the line.

As Mike puts it “people chase shiny things”. Resist and reap the rewards.

5. Know your market

A big part of making a business successful comes down to understanding your audience. There’s no point in offering a product that people are not interested in or offering it in a way that is unappealing to them.

For Mike, this meant looking at ways he could disrupt a tired and outdated market.

Winnet argues that there is no value in doing something just because that’s how it’s always been done. The best way to be successful is to try and find new and better ways of doing things.

In Mike Winnet’s case, this meant shaking up the e-learning industry with new interactive, educational videos.

“I started to look at the businesses that create e-learning, and they all charged businesses: per course, per head. . . . [T]hey were overcharging for essentially what was content and [then] trying to tie people into a long contract. . . .I just thought it was rubbish. . . .

Just create something that you would enjoy yourself, on the terms that you would want if you were a customer. So I would want: short, bite-sized, animated, explainer style [content]; or, just tell me one skill [and] let me go and try and put that into practice.

I realised that e-learning is actually a shit way to learn anything. The real learning happens, putting things into practice, through experience on the shop floor. . . . [I thought] why not create that for businesses to train their employees . . . ? And that’s what I did. . . . I literally tried to create a genuine alternative to what was out there, with real USPs. . . .”

For the service industry, the same principles apply. Try and find new ways of presenting your products and services or alternative angles that you can market to your customers.

If you have a successful local carpentry business, could you develop it further by nurturing an audience online? A great way to get started might be to build a website for your company and attract new audiences.

6. Answer the questions your customers are asking

Mike’s key point here is about understanding your audience and creating content based around that understanding.

Mike tells us:

When a person has got a problem . . . [they] go to one of two places . . . [they] either go on YouTube or Google to quickly diagnose what's wrong. . . . Youtube is the second most searched search engine in the world, Google's the first.

[A]ll you need to do is just make content with a search-first mentality. [You need to consider] what question would I search that I want this video to turn up as the answer for? . . . If you just start making content that answers those questions and put [it] in all the places that people ask questions, you will start to generate self-qualified leads, for free.

This isn't Facebook ads, spamming people's feeds. This is somebody with the exact problem you fix, searching for it, finding the answer. And now, because Google owns YouTube, Google [have] started pulling through YouTube videos onto the first page of Google. [T]hen you can reuse that content as frequently asked questions: on your website, in blogs. You can do it in your marketing campaign. [For example], ‘Here's a great tip on how to make your boiler more efficient’. Whatever it might be.

Just create evergreen, lead-generating content, and you are essentially having a salesperson that works 24 hours a day, in 10-15 places on the internet, doesn't take a day off, doesn't want commission, won't whinge, doesn't want a pay raise. It's you, in 20 places, only talking to your ideal customer. And that is the same for any tradespeople.

As Mike explains to us, this kind of content-first marketing strategy is super effective and can translate across to almost any industry.

Because this approach is focused on the questions your customers are asking it is always going to be relevant to your industry. What’s more, this strategy is cheap and easy to implement, which makes it’s ideal for any service business - even the small ones.

To implement this strategy, Winnet recommends going through the following process, which can help you get started when deciding what questions to answer.

[H]ere’s a quick tip for anyone that wants some value from this. Just get a piece of paper and every time you’re on the phone with anybody - any of your clients or any prospects - just write down the questions they ask. You do that for a week and I guarantee the same 10-15 questions will get asked over and over again. Those are your first bits of content. Just make that content.

And then what happens is . . . it removes any objections when they [your customers] see your content and call you up. They've seen your content and any objections have already been overcome. If they're ringing you, they want to buy because they've already bought into you. They believe you, trust you, understand you.

The beauty of this strategy, as Mike tells us, is that you are selling to an audience that is already convinced. Rather than having to start from scratch and win over cold leads, this form of marketing allows you to speak directly to the audience you want to be selling to, simply by answering the questions your customers want to know the answers to.

For a closer look at how to build out your marketing strategy, head over to our blog on digital marketing for plumbers and other trades.

7. Don’t hoard your knowledge

During Matt’s interview with Mike, Matt raises a concern that many service workers might have. The concern is that using a content strategy that involves sharing your expertise, may undermine your own business. Matt explains:

“The biggest blocker that you would come across if you were explaining this to a lot of people is, ‘I don't want to give away my expertise for free.’ That's the blocker”

It was a fair point to raise and a concern that many specialists in the trade industry may consider to be a problem.

This is particularly the case for specialists who spend a lot of time and money gaining the experience and knowledge necessary to perform the jobs they do, to such a high standard. Handing this out, effectively for free, may not seem like a good idea.

In response to this concern, Mike Winnet provides a convincing counterargument:

[M]ost people can't do the thing that you do, right? You can only do the thing that you do and only you have got all that experience. You’re only that good, and you’re only that knowledgeable, because you've been doing it for so long. Or you're the best at what you do.

Listen, I could tell you all now, exactly how to build and sell a business for £8 million. I guarantee that 99% of you won't do it and can't do it. Your customers are exactly the same. 99% of your customers that search about balustrades or boilers, aren't going to be able to install a central heating system. They might try and they're going to f**k it up. And then who are they going to come to? The guy that's helped them.

Some business owners may still feel that this kind of approach causes more issues than it solves, with many unprepared, underqualified people attempting to perform jobs that they are not trained to do.

This is a fair concern, however, there are further benefits beyond just the obvious point that mike makes (about a job done badly by a customer creating a payout for you).

So another way people look [at it] is, if this is how good the free stuff is, what's it going to be like for the paid stuff?! That's another way of looking at it.

Third way of looking at is this. If someone watches your content and they've got your problem, and then they go and try and fix it themselves, they were going to try and fix it themselves anywhere. They weren't going to buy from you. However, now you've earned money from them, watching your video. So, you even start making money from the people that don't even use your business. It's a revenue stream you weren't even going to get.

So at worst, you're getting a revenue stream from people that were never going to be your customers, which you've never had before, and at best you're going to have people that have already prequalified themselves and are 100% contacting you because they want to spend money with you.

To summarise Mike’s points;

  1. You are the expert. Your customers will never be able to totally replicate your expertise and if they try, you will be there to fix it when they get it wrong - for a price.
  2. High-quality content creates industry authority and tells your customers you are a leading business
  3. Customers that consume your content were never going to use your services. Online content engages a new audience and produces a new revenue stream while also promoting your brand online.

When you weigh all this up and consider the points Mike makes, it’s hard to think of a convincing reason not to share your expertise online. Ultimately sharing your knowledge, allows you to gain far more than anything you might lose from offering that knowledge.

8. Work harder than the rest

Mike's last point is perhaps the most obvious, but also the hardest to do. There is no workaround for hard work. To be successful you simply have to put in the hours.

This is something Mike is a big proponent of. One of his biggest grievances is people who try to look for quick solutions or shortcuts to success. Mike feels so strongly about this that he has even created a Youtube channel with the sole purpose of exposing those who try and sell these lies.

Working hard is brilliant, right, because it's hard to do, but most people don't want to do it. Which then means, that you're actually only competing with a very few, very small number of people. And that's what people don't seem to realise.

You know, they say . . . walking the extra mile is lonely, because most people quit before then. But once you basically outwork some of these idiots that are in your industry . . . which is quite easy because most of them don't want to do that graft, [it becomes easy for you to succeed]. It's easy once you've got past that tipping point because there's nobody else out there that is willing to do the bit that you're doing. So, it then becomes so easy to charge more money, grow your business, employ more people, remove yourself from the business. It becomes easy.

But most people quit the moment it gets hard or the moment it gets difficult. Or, they're trying to find shortcuts all the time. There is no shortcut to success. There is none . . . So just work hard at it now. The quicker you do it, the sooner you do it, then you'll be more successful earlier. Then you can outsource and you can get other people to do all the bits that you don't enjoy. And life is a doddle.

Business is easy, but actually executing it is hard. And I think that's why most people won't do that - don't do that.

The message is clear, it pays to work hard.

Final thoughts

In today's market, more and more business is done online.

Times are changing and like all things, the ability to adapt is crucial when it comes to guaranteeing your future success.

Mike’s 8 tips on how to grow your service business certainly provide some invaluable advice, that can allow your business to stay ahead.

The internet and the new ways in which we interact with people, has led to many changes. But, there is no reason why those changes shouldn’t benefit your business.

As Mike Winnet seeks to explain, by working hard and working smart (and perhaps with a sprinkling of good fortune too), you have every opportunity to turn your business into the next million-pound masterpiece.

So don’t wait around, you can make small changes today that can have a big impact down the line. The time is now.

If you found this article interesting listen to the full podcast here.