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In this economy, do you feel like you have to be in 1000 different places at once? If a customer or prospective customer has an opportunity, you want to be there, always staying close. But never too close.  I know the feeling.

Image: Business Management

The good news is, being out of sight no longer means you have to be out of mind.

With today’s networking tools and social media options, it is easier than ever to stay connected to customer relationships.

That’s important, because a well-maintained positive relationship can decide whether a current customer stays or goes elsewhere.

Relationships can also be the reason a potential prospect selects a new partner.

I feel like we are passionate about helping our customers (and others) and I want to stay closely connected to them, but I want to do it in ways that are most effective. Here is what has worked for me:

● I try to figure out how many times a customer wishes to receive contact from me. Once a week, once a month, once a quarter?

● I determine what time of the day and week they prefer to receive contact. I’ve found some people like to receive non-urgent communication over the weekend, so they can look at it first thing Monday morning before diving into the work week.

● I use different forms of communication, mixing up emails with phone calls and personal letters.

● I send articles that pertain to the interests of a particular customer.

Most important, I try to help the customer become more successful by connecting them with opportunities and projects.

I do all this because I genuinely like our customers. We try to work with customers who are, first of all, decent individuals who stand for the same character issues in life that we stand for and who represent quality organizations.

To me, if you help others first, all other things being equal,  then something good will come back to you.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email


Thanks to several social media tools, I have been able to stay connected with increased frequency than before web 2.0.  A couple of years ago we started using several  of these  and the effectiveness of helping with relationships has been very encouraging.  I can count on a brief exchange with someone due to my blog posts, as you see here, on Facebook or on Twitter.  On the other hand, I will say that social media can be a detriment to your time management efforts.

The internet is a large and highly populated space and it is easy to get lost or chasing rabbit trails. I compare it to someone looking into a refrigerator when one is hungry, but not really sure what they want, yet they open the door to see if anything has changed. Some would compare it to insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

But through the use of Social Media, companies can now focus their attention on specific audiences much easier and start topics of conversation with just a sentence.  In addition, you can make people feel more important by personalizing the messages sent.  I enjoy reaching out to old friends to check on their well-being as well as business acquaintances, as I believe that this is a lost aspect of business today.

I believe that the economy is getting better and to me, it more important than ever before to be sure that you’re strengthening and maintaining relationships with your clients and associates in the most efficient ways across multiple platforms.

Listed below are some other blog posts to help you on your way:

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Thanks to computers, smart phones and the Web, we as a society have never been more connected. I can send detailed information to multiple clients within a matter of seconds, and stay constantly updated on everything that is happening with the company and in the industry.

Yet, sometimes I think that we as individuals have never been more separated. It is now possible to conduct some types of business completely through e-mail, eliminating the need for face-to-face or even voice-to-voice contact. With Web 2.0 and other social media outlets, we can publicize the company and find new work opportunities without ever truly meeting people.

While I certainly put all these electronic tools to use, I feel that there is still an important place in the business community for in-person networking. I can post information on the Web and use everything social media has to offer, but at the end of the day there remains, for me, a need for personal interaction to make a true connect.

Old-fashioned networking is a good place to begin building a business relationship. In fact, I make it a point to continue dialing the phone and getting together with clients when we can. I wish to remember there is a person behind the email notifications. Hopefully the effect is shared.

Please don’t misunderstand. I think social media is an invaluable tool, but I feel it is important to use a combination of new communication methods and the tried and true. Regardless of how much can be accomplished with a few keystrokes, sometimes it’s not as valuable as a single handshake.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Last week, Chris Brogan and I spent 2 days together here in Birmingham. We were pleased to have him as our guest for the Green Building Focus Conference.

For those unaware, Chris is the well-respected co-author of Trust Agents and Social Media 101. He’s carved out a niche for himself in social tools online and the means, methods and leverage of Web 2.0. He’s teaching business leaders how to stay connected and in the game.

In his talk, Chris compared Web 2.0 and its tools to the telephone when it was invented. At the time, many maintained they would rather write letters and talk in person than use a new device. Even though it enabled them to communicate across hundreds of miles, people were reluctant to move past the familiar. This compares to where we are now in business communication, particularly in relation to social media. The phone and email are now tried and tested ways of staying connected, building relationships and increasing profits, but are they the future?

I found Chris to be genuine, transparent, honest and helpful, both individually and on stage. He is the kind of person who makes you feel like he’s interested in what you have to say and gives you his undivided attention, one-on-one. There were so many takeaways from my time with Chris, but in interest of brevity, I’ll share just a few that relate to social media.

Be in it for others. The ratio you spend helping others should be 12:1 when compared to what you do to promote yourself. Strive to build long-term relationships and trust.

If you do it, do it right. After Chris explained the various social networking tools that work well for him, he made the point that it was best to choose what you can do well and maintain properly.  If you spread yourself too thin, you will represent yourself poorly.

Keep mobile top of mind. As more people are becoming reliant on their smart phones for web use, make mobile a priority when designing a site. A budget spent on expensive flash and non-compatible design is often money wasted.

Reply. Chris suggested that his popularity is attributed to the fact he actually takes the time to respond where many experts do not.

To sum it up, the more I learn about these new tools and their leverage, the more intrigued I become with delving deeper. After all, social media uses less carbon and less effort, often gaining more results. How’s that for energy efficient?


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.


The world of social media is bringing a change to our language. I’m sure grammatical purists are scowling when they see “like” and “friend” used regularly as verbs. I think Tom Peters’ definition of “excellence” fits right into that camp.

You may remember Peters from the mega best selling book In Search of Excellence, which he coauthored back in 1982. I’ve been reading his newest work The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence. He argues excellence is “a way of life,” and “a way of being,” not a steady state to be “achieved.” For him, you do excellence. Sounds like a potential verb to me.

In the book, one of my favorite quotes shared is from Tom Watson, the legendary CEO of IBM. Watson was asked in an interview, “How long does it take to achieve excellence?” Watson snapped back, “A minute! You achieve excellence by promising yourself right now that you’ll never again knowingly do anything that’s not ‘excellent,’ regardless of any pressure to do otherwise by any boss or situation.”

Excellence is not a goal; it’s a way we can live and it’s who you can become. It’s a decision we each make to tenaciously pursue the highest standards in everything we do. Excellence has many rewards. It’s invigorating! It’s also very good for business.

In our company, here is what I have found about excellence over the years.

The desire to be excellent can be contagious. When we started out nearly 3 decades ago, we thought we “finished” a construction project, but we never quite got there. About 20 years ago, we encountered a customer relationship who taught us how to really complete a job. Now all of our projects finish the same way.

The road to excellence in any business starts with the small things. Learn to do them right first, then build from there.

Customers would rather deal with a “best in class” company. You can form a solid customer relationship based upon quality. While price remains important, it is balanced with the quality delivered.

The two hardest parts of any job are starting and finishing. Excellence is what should happen in between. I would like to think that getting all the details finished to customer satisfaction has become a brand for us. Set the standard high for your team, and it can be your brand too.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.


There is comfort in the known. That’s why most of us enjoy having a steady routine at work. But if you’re not careful, getting lost in habit and familiarity can become too comfortable. You’ll end up stuck in a rut while the ever-changing business landscape passes by. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said,

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

The construction industry is no different. The economy is forcing many companies to carefully examine shifting demands in the business and ensure their technological capabilities and skill sets meet those demands. Here are a few things I am doing to evaluate new means and methods:

Social Media. I suppose the very existence of this blog gives you evidence that I decided to embrace the social world. Beyond Planting Acorns, we’ve jumped in there and gotten active on FlickR, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Not only has this formed some wonderful new relationships, it has given me another avenue to stay up to date on the latest and greatest industry news.

RSS. I use Google Reader for two main reasons:

  • For social media strategy. I receive updates from Chris Brogan and Mashable. In the interest of time, I believe these are overarching and provide a concise heads up on the latest ways to stay connected.
  • To scan latest articles on advancements in construction technology. I use the word search tool to narrow my reading, and find advancements that allow us to do more with less, increasing productivity. BIM would be an example.

LEED. Marketplace emphasis on sustainable construction and renewable energy continues to increase. I sought LEED accreditation before we constructed our building and it’s led to multiple jobs we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

To sum up, I think the construction industry has not taken full advantage of change. Numerous opportunities are waiting; we just have to open the door. Change is often the catalyst for success.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

It seems that in the construction business—design and finance—there is an ever-accelerating outpouring of technology and knowledge. Because I sometimes worry that advances will pass me by, I’m always trying to figure out how to leverage my time. I want to maximize what I do without decreasing quality or cutting corners. But how?

Someone recently told me: “If sleep didn’t get in the way, I would have time to accomplish all my goals.” Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? Here are 5 things I do to increase my personal efficiency, so that I can get lots taken care of and still find time for a little shuteye.

  • Save industry reads for downtime. I go through the Wall Street Journal every Saturday morning, cutout  the pertinent articles, then read them on my next airline trip.
  • Get an executive summary on technology. I subscribe to two bloggers who deliver an overview of what’s happening in marketing, social media and technology. I think these guys are pretty sharp, and worth my time. Check out Chris Brogan and Mashable.
  • Carry an electronic data recorder. Mine is small and relatively inexpensive. Whenever I get an idea or think of someone to contact, I record the thought straight away, then take action later. I’ve saved a lot of good fleeting thoughts this way.
  • Use voice to text. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking software to dictate my e-mails. It saves a lot of keystrokes, freeing me up to communicate more often.
  • Subscribe to RSS. I use Google Reader, an amazing product. At a glance one can gain knowledge of specifics across a wide spectrum of publications and in my case on construction, design and finance.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

PA-woodstockAfter talking with someone about the movie Taking Woodstock, I got to thinking that this monumental event took place prior to the advent of the Internet, cell phones, social media sites and even before the invention of the fax machine and overnight mail, which surfaced in the early 1980s. Even without these tools we now consider basic, the festival was by most accounts a huge success. The event was publicized by true word-of-mouth with no help from technology.

A lot’s changed since I first heard about Woodstock in 1969. Our company takes advantage of all the Information Age advances. I recently encountered a situation where the benefits of being connected allowed us to be more productive on our jobsite—to save time, money and prevent waste.
I was visiting one of our remodeling projects where we were removing brick pavers from an existing hardscape area. When I asked our project superintendent how things were going, he told me paver removal had been moving slowly until one of our carpenters pulled out his smart phone, got on craigslist and posted “Free Brick Pavers” followed by the jobsite address.

Within a couple of hours we had several trucks with their crews coming to get the free pavers. There was no cost to us to load or remove the excess materials. As a bonus, all of the pavers were going to be reused rather than placed in a landfill.

It’s exciting to think where technology will take us. We’ve just begun. As we watch the future unfold, I suggest you get creative and use the latest developments as a business advantage.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.