Joe Kowalski

ServiceMonster CEO
Blog posts by me
Welcome to Homeschool

From the desk of ServiceMonster CEO Joe Kowalski:

Some general advice from the husband of a homeschool parent.

What just happened?

With the current shutdown orders in place for US citizens, most public and private schools have closed their doors to students for the rest of the school year. Many states have scrambled to get students some sort of direction, suggestions, and/or remote learning access, albeit with varying degrees of success. Parents who are in the middle of their own stressful changes are suddenly responsible for their children’s education. Parents may feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and a bit freaked out by the entire situation. I get it. It’s scary to think that, out of the blue, the daily education of your children currently rests in your hands.

Relax. It’s going to be okay. Your children will thrive even if you completely screw-up the next 5 months. I know this because I’ve experienced a more controlled version firsthand. About 12 years ago, my wife and I decided to start homeschooling our children. It was a major struggle for me to get used to that idea. We have 6 children now but at that time we were raising our first two. They were both super bright. I was terrified that we would fail to give them the direction and education they needed, that they would fall behind their peers or that they would not live up to their full potential. I was so very wrong.

I was raised in a public-school environment and indoctrinated into the system. I believed in our public schools and even accepted its many flaws. It was simply easier. Easier to leave the task of educating our children to the professionals. I have a lot of respect for educators, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that, in my opinion, it’s not the best learning environment for the kids. The best environment is one-on-one, much like the aristocracy did for thousands of years. The education is adapted to the child. Not the other way around.

Now I don’t think everyone should suddenly start homeschooling. What I would like to do is provide a bit of relief for parents who are worried. Your kids will be just fine heading into their next year, even if you do nothing until September. Have them follow the local schools plan as best they can but don’t beat yourself/them up over it. I’ll break the following article into two parts. The first will provide some basic suggestions to get you and your children through until the next school year. The second will attempt to provide a bit of guidance if homeschooling is something you are now considering.

What now?

Social media is plastered with frustrated parents trying to become the administrator for their child’s education. Managing the schedule for multiple siblings, controlling computer and screen time, ensuring they are paying attention and attempting to tutor them when they get stuck or need help can nearly be a full-time job by itself. Let’s see how we can ease the burden a bit.

  • When possible, try to establish a routine schedule. Recognize that in a focused learning environment, they don’t need the 6 to 8 hours they spend in school to get their studies completed. In fact, most of the parents I have talked with that had an easy time making the adjustment, were surprised that they only need 2 to 3 hours a day to complete their studies.
  • Be flexible but keep them accountable. Make sure to take the time to review their work. You can randomize it if you want so that you don’t look over their shoulder for every assignment, just make them aware – you’re watching.
  • For kids with systems you did not get training in (think common core) don’t take the easy way out. If you attempt to go around or undo the program that their teachers, school, and district has carefully created for all students, what lesson are you REALLY teaching them? I can see it now; “No, Ms. Krabappel, we don’t do it that way in my house. My dad said it was stupid so you have to teach me the other way”. Realize that unless you have spent a few hundred hours studying the art of education, you’re going to do more damage than good by bucking the system. If your intention is to help them, then have them teach you what they know.
  • Have them teach you what they know regardless. One of the best ways to ensure someone knows something, is to have them teach it to someone else. Not only does it display mastery, but it can also root the knowledge.
  • For teenagers, try to get them to do their studies in the common areas. It’s way too easy to lose focus and end up on a Discord server with friends or playing video games.
  • Create a cut-off time for school. Let’s face it, most kids have been conditioned to dislike school. Give them a carrot. At a specific time each day, let them pursue their own interests as long as the day’s work was fruitful.

Consider Homeschooling

All of that is well and good. As I stated, if you’re invested in your kid’s education, it’s unlikely you’ll screw them up before September. However, many families are seriously considering making the switch more permanent. Under those conditions, any friction one may have had with the schools, the curriculum, or the teachers, nearly vanishes. There is almost an infinite amount of ways you can go about educating your own children, resulting in what can be a confusing and stressful first year or so. If you are thinking of homeschooling, realize that the burden will be yours. You are going to have to do a fair bit of learning yourself to figure it all out.

In my opinion, as a homeschool father, my #1 goal is to install intellectual curiosity and rational thought. If I can do that, we both win.

Curriculum

Some parents are surprised that you can’t buy a “school in a box”. There is no one best solution that you can purchase, learn, and teach. Instead define the topics that you AND your child would like to tackle and find resources for the task. Yes. Both of you.

Institutionally Assisted Learning

While you’ll find a lot of information about all the other methods of homeschooling, Institutionally Assisted Learning is my personal term. It’s the idea that you can homeschool your child using the resources available to you from your school district. Educational materials are not inexpensive. Some parents find that the financial assistance that is available from some school districts helps to ease the financial burden and fog of war by providing much of the curriculum that you may need. There are strings attached though, such as regular testing, documentation requirements, and regular counseling.

The Classical Method

The classical method is one of the more popular teaching styles for homeschool parents. Mostly because it has been around since ancient Greece. This technique is centered around the Great Books. The subjects are interwoven into a chronological reading plan. This way the student gets the benefit of learning in historical context. The Classical Method also makes heavy use of dialog, fostering rich conversations and debate over the material while encouraging a deeper understanding beyond simple comprehension.

Montessori Method

Montessori is much more modern than the Classical Method. It was created around the turn of the century by physician and educator, Marian Montessori for her work around kids with special needs. Physical learning tools called manipulatives provide a tactile experience while helping the child understand the concepts in physical form. Montessori is an independent learning system where the teacher provides guidance and instructs indirectly. Large time blocks (up to 3 hours) of unstructured learning encourages free movement and independent thought. Uneducated observers might look at a Montessori environment and simple see kids “playing”. Upon further observation, they will see the sneaky and well-structured teaching technique. This method is better suited for smaller children.

Student-Led Learning

Another teaching technique popular with homeschool parents is called Student-Led Learning. In this style, the student (with guidance and direction from the parent) decides what he or she would like to learn or what topics they would like to learn about.

Here is an example. Let’s say Jonny is super into Greek Mythology. Go deep. Study the Odyssey and the Iliad. Read about Greek society. Look into the great western philosophers. Study the Art of the Argument handed to us by Aristotle. Study the Pythagorean theorem and Euclidean geometry. With one subject which the child is interested in, you can cover, math, science, history, philosophy, and sociology. And it works.

Unschooling

Most traditionally educated parents have a hard time understanding the unschooling concept. Let’s start with what it’s not. It is NOT an excuse to provide no schooling and be lazy with the effort. It’s not No-School. Unschooling takes the idea that everything is a learning and teaching opportunity. The student must first be well grounded in the basics of reading, math, and science before being allowed to learn from the world. It’s very much like Student-Led Learning but also promotes the idea of lifelong learning.

Conclusion

Homeschooling rules differ from state to state, so be sure to do your homework to find out what requirements your state may have for you, your child, and their education. Some states simply require you to file (so they know not to send the school money for your kid) while others require testing and a visit with a district educator.

I haven’t touched on some of the more common concerns of parents, such as support network, socialization, pace, and so on, but know that most of these concerns are non-issues as long as you are making the effort. Find a homeschool association in your county. Talk to other homeschool partners in your area.

Effort is the key. This is going to take real effort on your part, but the benefits, as I have seen over and over, can far outweigh the risks. You’ll get more family time, your child will get richer education, and you can choose your own methods from year to year. Fair warning though, if you simply pull them out of school to not teach them, or simply teach them what you think you know, there is a risk they will be underprepared for the adult world. Yes, it’s a big responsibility. But I think it’s completely worth it.

General
Category:
It's Time to Work #OnYourBusiness

From the desk of Joe Kowalski:

I type this from the makeshift office I have set up in my home. Washington State issued a stay-at-home order last week. ServiceMonster is currently completely virtual. All of our employees are working from their homes. Fortunately, for both you and us, we have that luxury. Service providers such as yourself, however, don’t have that kind of flexibility. I’m sure everyone who is under a stay-at-home order is struggling to find the balance. Is your work considered essential? I can’t answer that for you. I don’t put food on your table. I don’t live in your community. What I can do is offer some guidance to those who have decided to (or been forced to) stay at home.

GET BACK TO WORK

You’re an entrepreneur. This is not a vacation. If you need some time to get your head right after making some very hard decisions over the last few weeks, do that. Then get back to work.

If you’re able to keep your business after a few months in lock-down, then take this time to do all the things you “never had time to do" before. Get your books in order. Take that accounting class. Read. Study. Read some more. Master your CRM. Find out what a CRM is. Start getting to know your most important vendors. Get your business systems in place. Build a few spreadsheets. Create a few dashboards. The list is endless on how you can use this time to work #OnYourBusiness.

If you’re thinking of shutting down, lick your wounds and get back to work. Most entrepreneurs fail four times before they get it right. Not all of those failures are due to global pandemics though. I get it, but my point is that you have a clean slate. You can take everything you have learned, every experience you’ve had, and use that to create something new. A new idea. A new purpose.

Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. Just know that your lack of understanding is simply a measure of how much you need to learn. Embrace the change and build a stronger version of yourself AND your business.

DON’T UNDERVALUE YOURSELF

I hear comments like “I can’t learn that” and “that’s too complicated for me” from other business owners all the time. And they’re wrong. Self-limiting attitudes are a mind killer. The truth is, people who have that mentality are simply saying, “I don’t want to”. Fine. That’s a much different position. Either you’re managing your time and resources wisely, or you're lazy. Maybe even a little bit of both. Don’t claim that you "can’t." If you find it hard to make the transition, simply add “yet” to the end of your self-defeating mantra. “I can’t do that" becomes “I can’t do that, yet”. After a while, it changes the game.

The value your service provides is probably worth more than you’re charging. Try not to exchange hours for dollars. You and your business are worth more than that. This idea isn’t new and you’ll find plenty of references to this concept as you read and study.

Now, it’s likely that you’re thinking something like: “But I can’t raise my prices! How am I supposed to sell ‘value’? I don’t know how to do that!”

Then I will remind you: “You don’t know how to do that, YET.” You must build/re-build your business to be stronger. Self-reflection and study is number one. Proper revenue balance is number two.

BE CREATIVE

You can’t sell value if there is no value to be sold. If you’re providing a community service, just like everyone else, you’ll never stand out as exceptional. Don’t be basic. MAKE yourself exceptional. Add something to your business, create new marketing or messaging ideas, or offer specialty services. Find a way to bring more value to your clients in the most creative ways you can think of. How can you help them, with what would work best FOR THEM? Take this time in the office to explore your creativity. You can be as crazy as you like on the white board. Push yourself and your ideas to a new point of view. You can always make them “less crazy” in the real world.

QUESTION YOUR BELIEFS

When is the last time you questioned a belief which helped determine your behavior? How do you protect yourself from you own bias? Business owners often fall into an insidious trap: We believe our actions have brought us the success we enjoy. That’s only a half-truth. The reality is, some of the positions and beliefs we have about our success will actually be the very beliefs which limit our growth. How can you tell the difference if your experience tells you the wrong story?

One such tool is the formal logic principle as defined by Aristotle and his band of merry men. There is lots of information available on logical fallacies, constructing proper syllogisms, and building the tools needed to recognize when you are irrational. Not irrational like, you cray cray. The proper definition of irrational.

Irrationality is cognition, thinking, talking, or acting without inclusion of rationality. It is more specifically described as an action or opinion given through inadequate use of reason, or through emotional distress or cognitive deficiency.

FIND TOOLS TO HELP

Find remote tools for your business that can help you communicate, create, plan, and execute. ServiceMonster has made many changes in our own office and here are some helpful tools we found when working from home:

Facebook Workplace – We have used Slack and Mattermost. Both are chat platforms. Neither of them gave us the communication options that Workplace has. Its familiar interface and wide range of options makes it perfect for chat, calls, video calls, and group posts.

Ring Central – A business phone system with virtual options, voice trees, multiple phone lines, and side loads on your phone via an app. This means that you can separate your personal and business lines on your smart phone.

Trello – Task management in a simple to use interface.

Basecamp – Project management in a simple to use interface

ServiceMonster – Take control of your schedule, keep your eye on important key performance indicators (KPI's), and stay in touch with your clients via automated marketing tools.

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We must adapt if we are to survive. Take this time to reflect on your success and failures. Take what you need, ditch the rest, then get back to work #OnYourBusiness.

Marketing
Category:
Effective Social Strategies for Service Businesses: (6) Case Studies

This is part 6 in a series on social media for service businesses.

The full series is:

1. Introduction

2. Concepts

3. Social Platforms Overview

4. 7 Social Strategies

5. Using Facebook

6. Case Studies

Here are a few good examples of how we and others, have used social media to accomplish a goal or capture attention to deliver value to the business.

Case Study - Getting Attention

In late 2012, ServiceMonster moved from a bare metal solution to a true virtual service. We adopted Microsoft Azure. That decision would haunt me for eight months. Four months in, I was in a state of panic. The technology was solid. It had to be the platform. But how to get Microsoft's attention? They had no real support, and the level of support that I needed went way beyond a flow chart, so I created a marketing plan.

It was simple. Use Twitter and talk about my issues tagging Microsoft and Azure team members in every post, but first I had to get someone to listen. I needed to find some of their evangelists. Evangelists are people who are forward-facing about a product or service, but can stand up to technical scrutiny. From there I would find and follow the engineers that were working on Azure. My goal was to obtain email relations with someone that would listen. I figured it would take about 30 days.

I was totally wrong. In 14 days I was talking with an evangelist regularly. I was invited to Microsoft and had a personal eight-hour tour through the Microsoft campus. I talked to their top brass representing the Azure platform. It was pretty cool. I even blogged about it.

It really didn't help. Four months later I switch to Amazon. The day we switched, ServiceMonster was at peace again, and I got the first night’s sleep I had in a very long time.

The whole experience really opened my eyes to how effective social media could be in so many more ways than as a very effective lead generator.

Case Study - Gary Hite

In July of 2016, Gary Hite, a carpet cleaner in Temecula, California, published a video of a tile job. A few weeks later, he had over 12 million views. A month later, a separate company rented the rights to the video and created another 12 million views. We scooped the story as it was happening.

The main points are:

1. Have good stock video.

2. Learn how to produce original compelling content.

3. Do step one and two a lot.

4. Hope that a video gets picked up on an OCD subreddit.

I’m actually not joking. Be a student. Read the blog post. Watch the video. Gary didn’t know it would go viral, but he knows enough to put together some elements in his video that created interest and captured attention. That video has generated work for cleaners all over the United States, and Gary has taken that opportunity to expand several areas of his business.

Case Study - #entrejoe

On August 8th the marketing team and I decided to turn the Joe brand up to 11. We had not yet fully embraced the business persona of ServiceMonster. One mechanism we implemented was a daily entrepreneurial Facebook post, containing relevant content based on issues and hurdles I run into on a daily basis. I call it the Facebook long form. They are usually no more than a few paragraphs long but will often be longer than the fold. After a few weeks of posting, I started receiving encouragement to continue (love that). I even had requests to begin compiling these posts into a mini Art of War style publication. But this isn't 3000 BC. What did I do? I went back and tagged all of my relevant posts. I needed a hashtag that no one was using. Something that would create a brand. We often trade on 'Joe' and my focus is entrepreneurs, so #entrejoe was born. How can you provide the same type of value to your prospects and clients?

Social Media
Category:
Effective Social Strategies for Service Businesses: (5) Using Facebook

This is part 5 in a series on social media for service businesses.

The full series is:

1. Introduction

2. Concepts

3. Social Platforms Overview

4. 7 Social Strategies

5. Using Facebook

6. Case Studies

Business Pages

STOP INVITING ANYONE AND EVERYONE TO LIKE YOUR PAGE! Seriously. It messes with the insights Facebook can give you. It also makes Facebook think you are a national company instead of a local service. Yes, you can target campaigns using geolocation, but it messes up some of the cooler features. Build your wall. Keep your likes relevant to your clients and prospects. Stop inviting cleaning friends and vendors. This can really wreak havoc if you hire a third-party to manage your Facebook advertising. They will make assumptions which will be incorrect, like that your page supports 35 to 55-year-old males, nationwide, who own a service business. Oh wait, that’s my demographic.

Make your Facebook Page beautiful. If your logo is still out of 90s clipart from MS Office, it might be time for an update. Learn the difference between 72 DPI, 150 DPI, and 300 DPI (dots per inch) and why that's important to a Facebook Page and mobile technology.

Take some time to build your cover image. That's your billboard. Make it compelling. Ideally your profile picture will be your logo. Only change it for the most extreme circumstances. Don't make your alias’ Page profile picture your company's logo. Maybe try a different, more amplified version of yourself.

Make sure your Page is filled out and complete. Make sure there's a link to your website. Make sure your phone number is right. Share relevant content, post original content, run ads.

Facebook Pages give you some really cool tools in the Insights section to study the effectiveness of your content (not to mention you run all of your ads from your business Page).

Business Persona

If you’re looking to build a Warrior strategy, it is essential to have a personal alias page for your business. Use your real name and image. Don’t try to give your persona the business name or clever variation. Facebook will eventually close your account until you identify yourself and correct it (don’t ask me how I know).

Join local Facebook groups. Local business groups can be a good source as well. Look for community influencers with a strong Facebook presence and discover where they hang out, online. Send friend requests to people who have liked your Page, and especially ones that are already your clients. Be friends with them! Invest in their lives. Make witty comments on their posts you find entertaining. Share. It’s amazing how fast customers change from clients to individuals when you see their kid hit that home run.

Create a group (or twelve). Assuming you’re the constant student and after you have some attention on both your business and personal pages, you will start to identify additional ways to capture attention. Groups are a great way to communicate to a handful of people. Currently you can add a friend to a group, even without them accepting an invite. By default, they will get a notification whenever there is a post in that group. It’s a powerful feature and one I think we will lose long-term. Be careful with it. Some don’t appreciate being added to a group willy-nilly (sorry guys). The most obvious group for a service provider to create is a private group dedicated to your clients. You have to keep the content relevant to maintain attention and engagement though, so make sure your kung fu is strong.

Facebook Ads

Creating ads for Facebook can have some challenges if you’re just getting started. Start with a goal in mind. Do you want more likes or to drive traffic to your site? When using a picture, smiling faces are always the best performers. Facebook will reject your ad for a handful of things. You can’t run an ad with an image that has too much text. The numbers are changing all the time. Use Facebook’s image text check tool to be sure.

When running ads, be sure to narrow your focus as much as possible. You can target groups of users based on their location, interests, and age. You can even target users who have liked a Page of your competitors. The narrower your focus, the better your results.

Facebook ads are so inexpensive that you can run a few ads at the same time to see which one is more effective. Just like organic engagement, the more users interact with your content, the better it will perform and the lower it will cost.

Facebook has an entire online course for learning how to use Facebook ads.

Facebook Pixel

Use Facebook pixel to track traffic on your site. A pixel is a tiny bit of code you add to your web pages which will tell Facebook which Facebook users visited your site, and which page(s) they visited. You can use this for retargeting, or to figure out cost per conversion. Retargeting allows you to create a Facebook ad targeting people who have already visited your site. That can be very powerful when used correctly: You send a special offer targeting people who went to your webform and didn’t complete it the first time. You could even chain them together by giving them a better offer each time they visit.

Engagement

Facebook Page likes matter, but only for establishing a baseline of creditability. For services providers, a few hundred likes and a handful of good reviews is all you really need to accomplish that. What is more important than likes is engagement. When users like, share, and comment on your posts, ads, and boosts, they flag Facebook that the content is relevant. Facebook will then display your content to more feeds. Engagement is the real metric to attention, not likes. Facebook will display the engagement of each post on your business Page insights.

Conversions

OK. You have your business Page and business persona all ready to go. How do you get from there to a never-ending fountain of flowing leads? The process of capturing attention and turning that into a sale is called conversion. First, you capture attention. Then you offer value. Then you throw out an ‘ask.’ Perhaps the ‘ask’ invites them to fill out a webform. They complete the form and you now have a solid lead. Just be sure the transfer from your ad to the web page is cohesive or the user may get lost. As this series is about social marketing, my responsibility is to help you get people to the webform. From there you will need a sales pipeline and lead capture system, like oh, I don’t know, perhaps ServiceMonster...

Remember the PULL? The more engagement you get, the more Facebook will feed your content to our audience. Deliver content that has value and they will follow you. If all of your content is about you, your effectiveness will be minimal and [insert eye roll].

If you’re using Facebook Pixel with your webform and success page, then you will know what your conversion rates from Facebook actually are.

Continue on to part 6 in our series on social media for service businesses to read about a few good examples of how we and others have used social media to accomplish a goal or capture attention to deliver value to the business.

Social Media
Category:
Effective Social Strategies for Service Businesses: (4) 7 Social Strategies

This is part 4 in a series on social media for service businesses.

The full series is:

1. Introduction

2. Concepts

3. Social Platforms Overview

4. 7 Social Strategies

5. Using Facebook

6. Case Studies

STRATEGY: Bad

Having a bad social strategy is worse than having no strategy. I have seen business pages with missing or incorrect information. I have seen pages created for a business by the system where it becomes very difficult to claim ownership of them. I also see links to the owners' personal, public profile, which they DO NOT use for business. They will, more often than I can believe, commit one or more of the five deadly sins.

1. Political content

2. Religious content

3. Sexually charged content

4. Drug-related content

5. Personal attacks

Now these are general guidelines and can be bent if you understand you’re alienating a portion of your prospects. I always advise businesses and associations to steer clear of this type of content.

STRATEGY: None

You have nothing. Nada. Zero. This is kind of spooky for someone looking for your profile (and they will).

STRATEGY: Some

You have a Facebook Page and there is some information. Perhaps there is a link to your webpage and the three before and after pics you posted the day you started the business Page. Perhaps you tried a postcard-like campaign with little to no results or got discouraged when it became hard to entertain your Page likes without buying a boost from Facebook.

STRATEGY: Business Level 1

Your page is complete and accurate. It’s easy to call you or jump to your webpage. You make relevant posts at least a few times a month but how many before and after’s can you really do? You might have a handful of reviews and a few hundred likes on your page. You might have even tried a few boosts and got a handful of calls. Most business owners who think they do Facebook well live here.

STRATEGY: Business Level 2

Business Level 1 plus super consistent posts and boosts. Most of the content is shared from other sources with the occasional ad, picture, or video. When done well, the business can become a new authority in the local community. They either pay a third party or use a program like Hootsuite to manage posts. They have lots of reviews and plenty of likes on their page. They have some engagement on their boosted posts and are consistently getting jobs. These results will be similar to EDDM postcard campaigns in terms of response. The better your targeting, your content, and native attention, the lower your cost per client.

STRATEGY: Business Level 3

Business Level 2 plus amazing compelling original content crated by a personality in the business. Looking through the timeline of a Level 3 business Page tells a story and draws the user in. The story introduces them to the people, goes behind the scenes with friends and/or family, and shares their importance to the community. The strategy will also couple the website’s blog and newsletter content.

STRATEGY: Warrior

In order to build a warrior level social strategy, you need to triple down on your own personality. You know you're headed true north when you're your own biggest fan.

People will buy from people over businesses every time. To get the most out of your social strategy, your brand must have a face. You cannot participate in groups with a business Page. You cannot create a group with a business Page. You cannot like and comment on personal posts from your business Page. Your business Page can’t make a text-only post and expect to gain any attention. You can accomplish all of that, and more, with a business persona.

You end up with a Business Level 3 Facebook Page AND a personal profile you use ‘only’ for business. That’s not to say you don’t post personal stuff. You need to be personal if you want your audience to get to know you. Just stay away from the five deadly sins, share lots of your business content, and engage with your clients and prospects regularly, as a person.

Continue on to part 5 in our series on social media for service businesses.

Social Media
Category: