Florida-based small business owner Ray Ruiz is the creator of boatloanworld.com, a bilingual web site dedicated to boat loans for yachts, catamarans, charters and houseboats. Ruiz created his boat loan web site from scratch, completely on his own and with no previous web development or design knowledge. While his boat loans business as an independent sales contractor for Intercoastal Financial Group, LLC had dried up significantly due to the recession, Ruiz has recently seen small signs of a mini comeback.
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Here is his story…
Q. Please tell us a bit about your boat loans business. When did you begin and how do you do what you do?
A. I started my boat loan business in June 1997 while working for Trader Publishing and visiting my client Intercoastal. The owner invited me to accept a sales position with them in a completely new field which, at that time, was completely unknown to me.
Q. How did you acquire the knowledge required for selling boat loans?
A. I took extensive training courses required for marine financing and learned all I could about Titling, Cost Guard Boat Documentation, Liens, Loan Reserves, Rates, Loan Fraud Prevention and of course sales. During the in-depth sales training, I was taught how to sell the various different programs available from different banks that Intercoastal represented and how to qualify lead providers as well as the actual clients.
Q. What were some of the challenges you faced after you completed all your required training?
A. As an independent contractor, I had to launch my own business and generate my own income which is challenging enough. Thankfully, Intercoastal did provide me with truly robust training in preparation for successfully generating boat and RV loan sales so I felt confident I had a solid knowledge base from which to launch my business. When Intercoastal felt I had learned all there was to know in the boat and RV loans arena, they basically told me “Hey, there’s the door! Now go and find us some clients!” That was a bit nerve wracking at first. Obviously, my initial clientele was zero. What motivated me was knowing that other boat loans sales professionals in the area were generating a sizeable, comfortable commission income. I was determined to reach those income levels as well.
Q. How were those first months after all your training?
A. Because of my bilingual capability in English and Spanish, I decided my best bet was to start working the territories of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. I worked those territories very, very hard the first year. Little by little and over a period of about 18 months, folks finally started to respond. Soon clients were calling and deals were happening. It was tough at first because no one had ever heard of me but after people started to see me regularly, trust and credibility began to develop. Before I knew it, my phone was ringing off the hook. Folks knew if they worked with me, they would have someone who would tell them the truth and who would never try to swindle or impose unnecessary or unexpected fees. Additionally, I gave all referrals that came my way the red carpet treatment. Word spread and my client base grew.
Q. How did you create your bilingual web site? What was your process and approach? Who is your target?
A. When I created my website a couple of years ago, I had less than zero knowledge about how to construct anything online. I literally spent months reading scores of different websites about HTML programming and web design. I knew I would never end up building anything fancy simply because my design knowledge is limited, but I felt fairly confident I could at least build an extremely simple web site that could serve as a reference or helpful resource to those seeking boat and RV loans. In the end, I know what I have isn’t the best looking website in the world but it works well for me. Folks seeking boat loans do somehow find me on the web through that site and it has been a very helpful lead generating tool for me. I have been planning to upgrade it for a while now but clients and my various other side businesses don’t leave me much extra time to play with. One day soon I hope to be able to get my hands back on the site to improve it. We’ll see how long it will take me the second time around!
Q. You mentioned you offer, as a side service, English-to-Spanish translations. How did that get started and how is that going?
A. A local employer in my area got whiff via a referral that I could offer translation services. They had previously been using another translation service but that operation took much too long to turn projects around; often weeks in fact. I guess the organization’s management folks wanted to see if I, perhaps, could turn the translation work around more efficiently than the other service. They were pleasantly surprised when I was pumping things out left and right in no time! Since then, they punt a lot of translation work my way. I have been considering possibly expanding this service further but for now, this line of work keeps me quite busy and I really enjoy helping out and generating a small yet steady stream of revenue every month.
Q. What advice would you give to other small business owners today? What nuggets of wisdom can you share with others who are trying to maintain their business in these tough times?
A. I would recommend that anyone in business for themselves must absolutely take care of their existing clientele and treat them with kid gloves. Give them the royal treatment and they will respond and reward you. Retaining one customer is far more cost effective (and rewarding) than seeking out one new customer. My clients have, over time, sent me countless of referrals…so many, in fact, I hardly have to leave my home office to visit my territories in search of new business. Of course, I do go out to visit clients once in a while to maintain some face to face contact which is always a pleasure because many of my clients have actually become good friends. Bottom line: Caress the hands that feed you and you’ll have them eating from the palm of your own hands!