Small Business Spotlight: Estelle & Stephen Cockcroft

Estelle & Stephen Cockcroft, owners of Catamaran Guru, started their business with one goal in mind: to be the experts on sailing. Read on to see what they have to say about establishing yourself as a trusted advisor to your customers.
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Many people spend their working lives dreaming of all the things they’ll be able to do during retirement. Some dream of spending their days traveling the world — one day on the beach in Cozumel, the next in the rainforests of Brazil. Or perhaps retirement means simply getting to sit at home all day and do whatever it is you want to do. But why is it that we have to wait until retirement to follow our true passions? According to Estelle and Stephen, that isn’t and shouldn’t be the case! If you love something, there’s a way to make it into a living.

For Estelle and Stephen, sailing has always held a special place in their hearts. What started out as a hobby and a lifestyle choice eventually morphed into the couple’s main business. Instead of sailing for pleasure, the pair can now sustain their lifestyle doing exactly what they love.

Meet our small business owner:

  • Names: Estelle and Stephen Cockcroft
  • Title: Owners
  • Company: Catamaran Guru
  • Industry: Yacht Brokerage

4 things Estelle and Stephen have to say

Don’t have time to read the full article, but want to know how Estelle and Stephen started and grew their own business? Here are some of the main points we covered in our interview:

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and remember to have some fun. While you shouldn’t take this to mean stop working all together, it’s a nice reminder to step back from your work occasionally and put things back in perspective. A weekend getaway could be exactly what you need to refocus, recharge your mind and body, and give yourself a break from the stresses of work. When you get back, you’ll be refreshed and ready to give it your all.
  2. Organic growth is good growth. Even if it’s slower than you’d like, organic growth can be one of the best things for your business. Growing organically doesn’t mean you shouldn’t market yourself, but rather that your product or service speaks for itself. Providing the best experience for your customer makes them more likely to refer other prospects your way, which has a long-term pay off by establishing a solid customer base.
  3. Be in control of your destiny. If you have trouble finding others you can rely on to get things done the way you want, it might be time to take charge and do it yourself. Sure, it might mean more work in the short-term, but having the ability to own and control all aspects of your company can really jumpstart your business (and save you some cash to boot!).
  4. Know your product and your target audience. Estelle and Stephen are natural experts on catamarans simply because they’ve been sailing for over two decades. When a customer comes to them, it’s not difficult for them to answer a question about the product because it’s what they know best. Confidence that you know your product can convince a wavering customer to stick with you over a competitor.

How it all started

"We're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time."- Estelle

The oceans have always called to Estelle and Stephen Cockcroft, who began their journey sailing around the world over 20 years ago. The pair started building their first catamaran in 1990, and completed it two years later in 1992. Soon after, having saved some funds over the years, Estelle and Stephen decided to cut all ties with land and begin their life adrift. Despite describing it as one of the hardest decisions they’ve ever made, Estelle and Stephen have not looked back since that fateful day 24 years ago — in fact, they’re living aboard their newest catamaran now! Fifty thousand nautical miles later, and the couple has spent the majority of their lives sailing across the globe on boats of various shapes and sizes.

Estelle and Stephen first turned a profit for their passion by teaching a sailing class in the Caribbean. Their customers recognized the Cockcrofts as experts in the field, and often consulted them on all questions sailing, including what kind of boat they should buy. The Cockcrofts soon learned they had something valuable: expertise and a loyal customer base.

Once Estelle and Stephen dropped anchor in Florida, they started a business selling yachts and other types of boats, but have since found their niche — catamarans. As the “ Catamaran Gurus,” the Cockcrofts help customers find boats to fit their needs, skill level, and price range. Buying a boat can be a years long process involving a complicated mix of hopes, dreams, and the difficulty of closing a high-stakes international deal. Buying a boat involves a lot of trust and communication between the customer and seller; as Stephen says, “They’re not buying donuts, they’re spending half a million dollars.”

Estelle and Stephen sometimes spend two to three years working with a client before closing a deal. Over a year, the Cockcrofts sell about 20-30 yachts, with many of their successful leads coming from Estelle’s excellent marketing. Their days involve fielding emails from French boat manufacturers, following up with leads, working on their email marketing campaigns, and sending out reminders to their sales team.

How were they able to turn their life’s passion and lifestyle into a business? Read on to learn what Estelle and Stephen have to say about controlling your own destiny, becoming the trusted mentor for your customers, and more!

Be the trusted advisor

In an industry where prices are high and expertise is scarce, potential buyers need a little more help and guidance to buy the yacht that is the right fit for them. With so many different factors to consider — size, tonnage, layout, engines, hull length, etc. — it can be a daunting task to purchase a boat without any help. In the yacht industry, the best way to prove that you have any expertise is to sail, sail, sail (so you can sell, sell, sell).

If a customer sees your expertise in action, they’ll trust that you know what you’re talking about. And the sooner they trust you, the sooner they’ll turn to you when they need help. Being the friend and mentor your customers turn to requires time to build a careful, trusting relationship, but it also ensures that your customers will heed your advice and feel comfortable making their big decision when the time comes.

For Estelle and Stephen, it was easy to prove themselves to their colleagues and friends.“We did sailing schools in the Caribbean on our own personal boat, and people trusted us with their purchase because we lived the lifestyle,” Estelle recounts. “We understand what it’s about, we understand boats, we built our own, sailed our own over oceans.”

In those classes, they weren’t just helping others learn how to sail, but were demonstrating their competence by simply doing it. Estelle continues: “People trusted us with that knowledge, that they can trust us to buy a boat that will work for them. Out of that came the business — we realized we had something valuable.” It’s cliché, but knowledge is power, and when you combine that expertise with passion and a lifetime’s worth of leads, you’ve got a viable business plan.

Since their sailing school days, the couple has made a living doing solely what they love and established themselves as experts in the field. Building their credibility was a necessary step to making their business successful. When you’re dealing with luxury goods, you have to work extra hard to convince the buyer to make a move.

“It’s such a huge investment [purchasing a boat], it’s not a must-have product. So you really have to know, understand, and love your product in order to sell it,” offers Estelle. Stephen elaborates further: “At the end of the day, good sales is good product knowledge. If you don’t have good product knowledge, you couldn’t convince anyone to buy a boat. We have knowledge on the lifestyle and the products, so we can impart them to potential buyers.”

"We create the buzz about the lifestyle. People look at us, and we actually live the lifestyle. We live on a boat, we work on a boat . . . most people dream of living that life. So it's not a stretch to then bring that across to people."- Estelle

On top of that, Estelle and Stephen make a point to treat their customers with the utmost care and respect. In the 2-3 years it can take a customer to decide, the Cockcrofts help them look at numerous boats as they prepare to invest large sums of money into a new way of living.

Throughout the buying process, Estelle and Stephen make themselves available at all hours of the day. “They call us constantly for advice about boats, and we are absolutely accessible to them all the time — we treat them like royalty.” Even if a potential customer hasn’t expressed direct interest in purchasing a boat, the Cockcrofts always make sure to answer their questions. In the end, even if that particular customer doesn’t make a purchase through them, they will be more likely to refer any leads to Estelle and Stephen.

Oftentimes, their customers become their friends, and their friends become their customers. In fact, the couple will often sail with customers and friends alike — it’s a chance for their potential buyer to learn about boats, and watch two experts demonstrate the necessary skills to sail successfully.

For your business, figure out how you can create security and trust for your client. Whether they are buying yachts or picking a new software, knowing there’s a safety net for the leap they’re about to make will ensure your customers feel more comfortable when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.

Want to learn how to nurture long-term leads like Estelle and Stephen? Click here to see how to turn long-term leads into sales!

Growing organically

When it came to getting started with Catamaran Guru, Estelle and Stephen needed to sit down and develop a strategy for growth. That is, after all, the only way they could sustain their lifestyle — selling the first boat was easy, but how could they keep finding new buyers? It turns out that word-of-mouth referrals became the heart of their new business.

Estelle estimates that they are still in contact and friends with approximately 70% of their former customers — and not only have they sold boats to their friends multiple times, former customers have become their best form of advertising. “In our business, people really want a trusted advisor,” Estelle reiterates. “The more we become known in the industry, the more it sort of just happens — people come to us.”

While not every industry behaves in the same way, it’s fair to say that organic growth is an extremely viable strategy for most small businesses. If you have one happy and satisfied customer, it’s possible that could turn into 3 more potential customers as they tell their friends about their awesome experience with your company. Through referrals, Estelle and Stephen have gone from selling 10 or fewer boats a year to over 30!

Growing and managing their team

As their business grew, the Cockcrofts knew it was time to get organized and expand their company. After bringing on four sales reps, Estelle and Stephen needed a way to centralize all of their information. When they started searching for a CRM, Estelle and Stephen found other products difficult to learn and use. When factoring in cost and functionality, Stephen says, “We were looking for a less annoying CRM.” Lo and behold, they found what they were looking for in Less Annoying CRM!

Since settling on LACRM, Estelle and Stephen have realized the value of CRMs and why they’re so popular in the yacht-vending community. “Before we could get away without a CRM, but now...we can’t live without that right now.” Stephen adds, “It’s common sense to have a CRM.”

Estelle began using LACRM as a way to control her email marketing campaigns and newsletter. She would input names into the CRM, organize them into mailing groups, and then sync her contacts with MailChimp through LACRM’s integration. Recently, Estelle and Stephen have really expanded their use of the CRM to keep track of their new brokers, their schedules, and contacts. “It has simplified my life unbelievably,” Estelle explains.

Estelle’s advice for new CRM users is to train yourself to use your CRM every day. “The first thing you do every single day should be to go to your CRM and look at your agenda.” Estelle lets her CRM do the work of keeping her organized, and she makes sure to keep her database up to date.

Trying to make CRM use a habit? Follow our suggestions here to make your CRM a part of your daily routine!

Stephen adds that too much information can be a bad thing — “too much becomes a sea of information and you drown in it,” he says. While the CRM is a valuable way for them to connect with their team, the importance isn’t on every single note that’s being entered. Instead, it’s about the people they’re working with and the last conversation they had. “It’s not something that someone makes a decision on in a week,” Stephen concludes, so quite a few phone calls happen for each prospective customer.

With all of their staff remote, the two can keep tabs on their sales representatives virtually. Pulling reports and looking at leads, Estelle and Stephen can quickly determine which reps are actually doing their job as opposed to those that aren’t. And with these two, it’s sink or swim — not using the CRM to monitor your relationships means no more leads for that rep. In fact, reps have to claim leads by entering them into the CRM first. Once one rep has a claim, the others aren’t allowed to pursue that lead unless it’s passed on to them for one reason or another.

In this business, sales reps are in it for the long run. They’re developing relationships with their customers, that they need to foster and grow over time. Using a CRM, reps can enter notes and facts for them to remember in 2-3 months time when they next speak with the client. And importantly, Estelle and Stephen don’t want to be constantly checking-in with their reps — their main goal is to show others they know boats.

Because of their love of sailing and active lifestyle, it was very important to Stephen and Estelle that they also be able to run their business remotely. As Stephen calls it, they have a “business in a briefcase.” The Cockcrofts live a mobile lifestyle, and they wanted their business to fit that model.

“We’re selling a lifestyle, so we try to be in the moment. We try to sail as much as we can, or at least have something to do with boats or the ocean throughout the year,” explains Estelle. And during that time, their focus is on sailing and developing their rapport with customers; their CRM is there if they need it.

It’s obvious to anyone that knows them that Estelle and Stephen not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. The pair have embraced the same motto since day one. On a high-level, the two have stuck to their guns over the years, which Stephen attributes to their success. “Have your business plan, and stay the course,” he starts. “If you have a good one, there are good times and bad times and tough times, but if you stick to your guns you should make it through.” Regardless of what may come your way, staying true to your plan will pull you through the turbulent times.

Want to grow and manage your team like the Cockcrofts? Encourage your reps to use the CRM and easily review their sales progress with reports!

Controlling your destiny

When it comes to all things nautical, Estelle and Stephen are the (catamaran) gurus. And yet, as any business owner knows, it takes more than product knowledge to start and run a company — you need to generate leads as well. Estelle and Stephen were already pros at customer support and service, and their relationship with their existing customers did bring them quite a few leads each year. Marketing and branding, however, were totally outside of their comfort zone, but soon became an integral part of their business.

“When we first started, I had no idea what a website was, let alone how to build it,” Estelle confesses. But that wasn’t enough to stop the two from getting their name out there. Estelle sat down and taught herself how to create a website, and she attributes the existence of the site to their continued success. “We control the message, and we don’t have to rely on other people to make things happen for us. We did it ourselves.”

On top of that, Stephen firmly believes that the website is their identity. In this day and age, a Google search can give you links to the “Top 10 [insert any word here]” in under a second. In most cases, the average customer will spend 15 seconds or less looking at your website — that means you have 15 seconds to grab their attention and keep them engaged! Being in control of your image means you not only decide what gets posted, but also grants you the ability to change it at a moment’s notice.

For Estelle and Stephen, they branded themselves as the Catamaran Gurus. Establishing themselves as experts on all things catamaran, they have found a niche in the yacht industry. From the choice of name to the content of the website itself, everything projects their expertise and knowledge. Most importantly, it establishes them as the go-to source for anything nautical — even if you’re not interested in purchasing a boat (yet).

While not everyone can teach themselves to build a website over night, being able to control your message is vital to the success of your company. If your image doesn’t align with your goals and objectives, you can’t expect customers to come knocking on your door. Additionally, you need to differentiate yourself in a sea of competitors — having a website with your unique branding can significantly aid your cause.

Tying it off

In the end, it all came down to one thing: enjoying what they do. Since they already lived the lifestyle, it wasn’t a stretch for them to turn a profit doing what they love. “We truly enjoy what we do,” says Estelle, “and we really enjoy the people we work with, which makes a very big difference.” Going one step further, Stephen suggests it would not have been possible alone. Much like sailing, it’s much easier to do it with someone else who can complement your skill set — and that’s something that has pulled them through the good and the bad, says Estelle.

While you might be running your business solo at the moment, it’s important to remember to always enjoy what you’re doing. In the words of Estelle and Stephen, “You can get so bogged down in life in business, you forget to live. And that should be a priority.”

Estelle and Stephen practice what they preach — they know boats, they know sailing, and they know the lifestyle. They interact with their boat every day, and make sure to sail when they get the chance. While words can be persuasive at times, nothing proves you’re an expert like going out and doing it. Just remember to make a plan, stick to it, and create your own identity. Eventually, you’ll gain traction by doing what you love and doing it well, and Estelle and Stephen are one of the best case studies of precisely that.

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