Creating and owning your own home improvement contracting business can be lucrative. But, before you get too far involved, here are 10 helpful ways that you can build a contracting business that’s built to last (or grow the contracting business you already own).
1. Create processes
One of the most common problems that contractors run into when attempting to grow their business is being process driven. Many are stubborn due to already having some sort of system in place that they’re familiar with and believe is working just fine. Always be willing to take an honest, hard look at what is the status quo and more importantly to be open to ideas that may improve it.
You can use whatever system(s) work best for your company regarding book keeping, scheduling and invoicing, training and task management, hiring and onboarding, as long as that system accomplishes the designated task. There are tons of options, both in-house & outsourced. Regardless of which direction you choose, create the processes that are simple to use, employ best practices, and easy for employees to learn and utilize.
When you have an effective system in place. it allows you to not only maintain your current level success but also helps you be prepared to scale properly when it’s time to grow.
2. Consistently “take the pulse” of your business.
Successful company owners are “tuned in” to their business and super aware of what they are doing and what can be improved upon. Conducting a comprehensive assessment of your company includes asking questions like;
- Is your business stable financially?
- Are you getting repeat sales?
- Do you have customer referrals?
- How do people rate your business and customers service?
- What is your employee turnover rate?
These questions can be answered by reviewing your books, paying attention to what people are saying about your business online and talking with employees and customers. If there are areas that need improvement, then focus on those areas before you grow your business too much.
For example, your number one complaint from customers is the level of customer service they receive, then you may want to consider hiring people who do excel in customer service or can provide proper training for your current staff.
3. Be available to your customers.
When existing or potential customers call your business (during business hours), they expect to talk to a live human being, not a recording or automated system. Having someone available to answer the phone all day can be a challenge, but if you don’t want to lose customers to the competition, then it is necessary.
If you are a smaller company (owner/operator), make sure your business calls forward to your cell phone. Do your best to answer all calls. Understanding that answering every call would be impossible, make it an absolute practice to call the customer back at the next immediate time available (not waiting to get back to the office before calling). Another option is to hire an answering service which you can control when you are not available yourself and you prefer to have the calls answered for you. This is the best option as the customer always speaks to a live person and is never left talking to a machine.
To help avoid any confusion, it is advisable to clearly state your business hours on your business cards, invoices/estimates, website and social media pages. If you clearly state that you close at 6 p.m., then a customer shouldn’t be upset that no one is available to answer the phone at 7:30 p.m.
Additionally, it is recommended that you set up automated email and social media messages during off-hours. A simple message informing a customer that their message was received and they’ll receive a response within 24 hours should be enough to keep them satisfied.
4. Know your competition and market trends.
Knowledge is king. An essential practice to remain market relevant, is consistently educating yourself about the market you call home base. Regularly get comps to ensure that you are not pricing yourself out of business and at the same time, not leaving money on the table. What you charged 3 years ago, may no longer be hitting the sweet spot of customer satisfaction and profitability. Often networking at industry associations can help you develop essential business skills, ranging from how much to charge for clients to how to write a contract.
Modern consumers evolve and change much faster than ever before. Staying in the “know” and keeping yourself tuned into market trends and what consumers want, will give you the advantage when competing against other companies that may not be as connected as you are. Thanks to social media (Pinterest, Houzz, etc) and television (HGTV), home owners often know what they want before you ever step foot in their home. Who do you think they will hire, the company that is familiar and understands their desires or the one that is looking back at them like a deer in headlights?
5. Step up your marketing game.
Successful marketing campaigns aren’t just about landing new customers. They’re about securing more profitable projects and keeping your current customers happy. This includes having an online presence and interacting with your specific audience through email, social media and blog posts, where you demonstrate how your business solves their problems.
The majority of the world operates online, whether to search for or verify the companies they choose to work with. Start by making sure that your address, phone number and hours are available online, consistent on each site (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc) and easily searchable. Modernize your website and ensure that it demonstrates both visually and textually who your company is, what your services are, and why customers should trust you for their projects. It is a highly competitive market for the online consumers attention, so don’t be afraid to invest in your marketing (time, expertise, & money). If you are not confident in your own ability to effectively market to online consumers, don’t fret. There are many lead generation options out there that take the time and expertise out of the equation (not the money part) and allow you to focus on what you do best.
6. Go the extra mile.
Even if you’re a general contractor, you’re probably not an expert in all fields. That’s why you provide specific services for your customers. However, when you go above and beyond for a customer, you’ll probably earn a lifelong client and one that will be quick to refer you to others. For example, if you’re doing HVAC work and notice that a pipe has a minor leak that you can easily repair, you can fix the pipe instead of having the customer call a plumber. Or if you are a roofer and you are replacing a customer’s roof but notice that the gutter has become detached, you can reattach it instead of just telling them about it and having the customer call a gutter guy.
7. Find a mentor.
Beyond the wealth of knowledge and general guidance that a mentor can provide, one of the best things about a mentor is that they can guide you in solving problems. Most of the hurdles you face, the mentor has been there and experienced it before. This person can be a family member or retired contractor; other times it may be someone you have to hire like a business coach. There are many options out there for coaching from people and organizations that were created by people that were “in the trenches” in the past and now focus on helping others such as yourself achieve similar success in your business.
8. Be unique & stand out.
Does your business have a particular specialization or cater to a niche market? If so, let people know about it and capitalize on what makes your business different from the others in town. It could simply be your ability to provide the specialized services or unique techniques you use, or a product/brand that is superior.
Make sure that you put thought and careful consideration into the image that you and your employees represent. Your vehicle(s) are traveling advertisements. Do they look like the next guy or do they leave a lasting impression? Do the uniform/attire your team wears to visit a customer bland or memorable? Don’t be too bold where you turn people off, but find the balance of what will stand out and accomplish the goal of a good and lasting impression.
9. Be prepared for anything.
No matter what size your business is, being prepared is what can make or break you. For contractors, however, it’s the little things that can determine whether you’re going to survive or not. After all, being prepared is the key to efficiency and profitability.
For instance, let’s say that you’re almost done with a bathroom renovation and find out that you’re missing a $5 part you need to finish. That part now can set you back a couple of hundred dollars because you have to overnight it. Even running to the local hardware store costs you time and money. And, you’ll probably have to eat that cost because it’s not included in the original quote.
If you own a service business, make sure that your trucks are always supplied with the necessary equipment. It can’t hurt to have more than you will need and be overprepared. For example, you are changing out an air conditioning system for a client and notice that the existing ductwork has a section with a large hole/tear. You can let the customer know and then have to either run back yourself to the warehouse or have another truck deliver it to the worksite, costing considerable time and money. What if you had an extra bag or two of flex duct (for HVAC pros) on your truck for every job? Not only are you able to fix the problem expeditiously, you also avoid all that lost time and money.
You can’t plan for every scenario, but always go over your materials list before jumping in, to make sure that you have everything that you need to complete the job (and perhaps some extras).
10. Don’t be afraid to stay small.
A lot of contractors get stuck in this middle area where they’re forced to hire more people because they can’t handle the workload, but profitability stays the same or even decreases. For many contractors, it’s easier for them to stay small and there is nothing wrong with it. Staying small also reduces stress since the workload and staff is easier to manage. Grow your company to the size that best suits your needs and objectives.