Book focus is owners of small businesses
Posted: February 21, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — Judy Wilfong doesn’t pretend to be a financial guru, but after 29 years of being a small-business owner, she’s picked up a few things.
About three years ago, the owner of Windows & Walls, an interior decorating business in Frederick County, decided to share some of her knowledge about customer relationships, communication and other business practices.
The result is “It’s Your Business It’s Your Future,” a basic guide to principles and practices that often fall to the wayside in smaller companies, Wilfong said.
“My primary goal was to write a book to get information to small-business owners or potential small-business owners to help them be more successful,” said Wilfong, 59, of Frederick County.
Wilfong will host a book signing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Winchester Book Gallery, 85 N. Loudoun St.
The book, which costs $16.95, was published Jan. 9 in paperback and became available in mid-February on Kindle e-book.
The knowledge in the book is garnered both from lessons Wilfong learned personally as a business owner or saw examples of in the people she worked with through the years.
Windows & Walls specializes in custom window treatments and bedding, though Wilfong does total design projects, too. Through the years, she has had plenty of opportunities to work with other businesses in various fields and observe how their actions affected not only her but the customers.
Too often, she has observed business owners who were excellent when it came to the skills of their trade but lacking in the foundational practices needed to handle other aspects of their work.
“As they tried so hard to establish their business, every day they did things that worked against what they were trying to accomplish,” she said.
Customer relationships is the biggest shortcoming Wilfong noticed and the area she spends the most time on in her book. Simple tasks, such as following up with customers, calling or emailing them back, and doing what they say they will do is vitally important.
Many small business owners don’t realize how important those skills are to not only getting customers to come back but to refer them to family or friends, she said. Word-of-mouth referrals are a great form of advertising.
Another section in the book focuses on effective and efficient communication, skills that are paramount to having a successful business, Wilfong said. She doesn’t address vague concepts, honing in instead on skills such as really listening to cus tomers, learning to read body language, and responding appropriately.
The final section deals with avoiding miscommunication and conflict. Wilfong touches on contracts, agreements, and knowing when and how to let a customer go. Conflict and negativity cut into a business owner’s creativity and are disheartening.
It is also upsetting for the customer and runs the risk of “really harming a small business’ reputation in a small town,” she said.
Since T.J. Stevens of Frederick County read a rough draft of Wilfong’s book in November, he has noticed a big difference in his business, Global Web Designs Networks and Solutions in Frederick County. The source of the changes comes back to him and how he is handling his business.
Proper etiquette, communication, callbacks and taking ownership of certain customer needs were all issues he addressed. The goal was to make sure his customer feels like a person, not a number to him.
“At huge corporations, you definitely get lost in the paperwork, but small companies should take care of their people because that is definitely their bread and butter,” he said.
In the months after he started implementing the changes, Stevens estimates his clientele has increased about 33 percent. “I can’t really say (the book) is the reason, but I can say it definitely helped in getting new clients.”
The book is a reference guide to the attitudes of small businesses, acting as a “refresher course to get people back in line on how to treat customers and how not to treat customers,” he said.
Wilfong offers simple advice such as actually listening to customers to understand their needs, especially when they don’t know the terminology of the trade.
When she founded Windows & Walls in 1984, Wilfong set out to make it an extremely service-oriented business. Sales were conducted in the comfort of customers’ homes or offices, since “colors and patterns must be viewed in the lighting and room in which they are to be used in order to attain superior results.”
Business hasn’t been totally smooth sailing. Because of a slow economy, she has had to go from several full- and part-time employees to two part-time employees and herself. But even with those cuts, she never used it as an excuse to shirk customer relations, knowing it is a vital part of her business, she said.
Between 2004 and 2009, she also worked part-time for the national company Exciting Windows, training and advising their franchisees, she said. “That was really an eye-opener into how small-business owners perceived what they were doing and what they were actually doing.”
Wilfong earned an associate’s degree in applied science in 1974 from Lord Fairfax Community College. She also earned an Interior Decorating Career Studies Certificate in 1984 from the college and a Master Level in Window Coverings and Interior Fashion in 2001 from Window Fashions.
She also has published several articles in trade magazines and won national design competitions.
She lives with her husband, Rodney Wilfong, in Frederick County, and the couple has a grown daughter, Holly Wilfong. Both were very supportive of her writing the book, she said.
She had no writing experience when she started the book. She took workshops with writing coach David Hazard in 2010 and read several books on the subject. She said she chose self-publishing over trying to find an agent and publisher, which she sees as the small-business owner in her — wanting to get things accomplished as soon as possible.
Judy Wilfong will have a book signing for her new book, “It’s Your Business It’s Your Future,” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Winchester Book Gallery, 85 N. Loudoun St. Contact 540-667-3444 or go to winchesterbookgallery.com.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com