Fire Up Your Business

I don’t mean to brag, but my town’s fire department has an exceptional logo: 

Two axes, a ladder, and what appears to be a snake climbing a stripper pole (see photo below).

It’s so wonderful in fact, that I have decided to give all my fire safety-related business to them.

That’s correct. 

In the unfortunate event of a fire in my home – any time of day, any day of the year – I will seek help from the Upton, Massachusetts Fire Department and nobody else.

Now, I can’t see you from way over here, but I’m guessing that at this moment you are scratching your head, wondering what on Earth I am talking about.

After all, wherever you live, the fire department is the one and only fire department. There’s no choice to be made by consumers. It is what it is.

Further, and as if they needed any additional help monopolizing all smoke-related business in town, the fire department is only called upon when there is an immediate, urgent need.

Taken together – no other options, no time to shop around even if there were any – and the fire department has demand sewn up.

The truth is, if they were in business to make money, they would be … if I may … on fire.

Think about it.

Firefighting demand is so high that most of us don’t know or care who works there, how they were trained, how long they’ve been on the job or, frankly, how good they are relative to neighboring towns. They don’t advertise because they don’t have to.

You and I, on the other hand, are not so fortunate.

We lie somewhere on the demand continuum between the fire department at one extreme and “nobody wants what you’re selling at any price” at the other.

Where you happen to be along that continuum matters. A lot.

Look for Demand First

I’ve been offering email newsletters as part of what I do for twenty years.

In 2001, demand was low: “Not enough of our clients have email addresses to make it worthwhile.”

In 2006, I couldn’t pick up the phone fast enough.

In 2012, “email was dead.”

In 2020, with privacy concerns high and the ROI of social media suspect, guess what’s back in town.

Throughout it all, the variation in my email newsletter workload has not been a function of anything I’ve done. It’s all been about demand for the thing itself.

When it’s high I sell a lot. When it’s low I don’t.

Here’s the bottom line.

The most important factor, bar none, in determining your success as a small professional service provider, is demand.

It’s not your credentials, or your experience, or your relationships, or even your capability. Those things matter, of course. But demand matters way more.

So before you bother improving your marketing or selling, make sure you are offering something that people already want.

Absent that, you better have one hell of a nice logo.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you find it odd that they show up to fight fires in a red truck? From a distance, how are spectators supposed to know who’s on which side?
  2. In what year did you first get an email account?
  3. How has demand for what you sell changed over time?

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9 thoughts on “Fire Up Your Business

  1. Bill Sell

    Snake on a stripper pole…great one, Michael! And one I will certainly remember.

    First email account was in the Olden Days. Very early on AOL where I got a five-letter email address. Not sure which year, I mean decade.

    Demand for my business – creating events for clients – has grown significantly. First it was economic downturns where people call looking for help and now with a pandemic they call looking to retool their live events into virtual or online events. Not quite a fire truck arriving but for those whose events have been saved by the retool, maybe it was a fire truck arriving…

  2. Steve Coombes

    1) I believe it’s a form of delivery camouflage into the heat of battle. That way the fire thinks they’re friendlies until… whammo!

    2) 1985? Of course, that was back in the days when you jammed the handset of your telephone (that incidentally was tethered to a wall to actually USE it rather than simply charge it) into this weird contraption called an acoustic coupler that translated your typed words into music along the telephone wire that turned into words on the other end. It was a bit more reliable than today’s autocorrect.

    3) Steady increase. My knowledge and skills increase regularly. The number of people who know me increases regularly. And a certain percentage of them continue to say, “whoah, that Steve guy might actually be able to help me with something.”

  3. Michael Katz Post author

    1985?! Wow, there were probably not many people available for you to send email to then!

    1. Steve Coombes

      Well, to be fair, it was more like Comments like these on Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes). You could mention someone by name in the comment if you wanted. So not exactly like email I suppose. But I count them because… well, just because it makes me sound cool. 😛

  4. Halina Stolar

    Great article. Love the discussion questions.

    I remember EXACTLY when I got an email address: April of 1995. That’s when I met my boyfriend who was in school far away and phone calls were just too expensive (because, college students). I got an email account through school and the system was called Pine and it was so horrible and cumbersome.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Great story. My first was an AOL account through my then company. I remember that the tech guy had to wire an analog phone line into my office so I could use a modem to connect!


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