Too many of us start thinking about what we might start doing differently after the year has started. This month’s Last Word will help you start a little sooner. So if you haven’t already put together your 2019 plans for success, you have some time over the holiday to think about your goals for the year and what you might do differently.
Here are 12 things to consider that could help make 2019 a banner year for your contracting business:
1. Set Real, Measurable, Attainable Goals. If you don’t have a target, how will you know if you hit it? By setting documented, measurable goals that push you to stretch a little, you have a 100% increased chance of hitting them - versus having unclear or no goals and just working harder and hoping to “Do Better.”
2. Create Simple Ways to Track Your Goals. The ideal vehicle for setting goals and tracking how you are doing against them each month is a detailed written forecast. If you’re not quite there yet, put together a simple list of goals. For example, how many new maintenance agreements you will sell in 2019, or a minimum 10% net profit on your installations, or perhaps increasing revenue enough to add one service technician.
With goals, you are taking control of your company’s destiny. Without them you’re leaving it to chance.
3. Step Up to High Performance. If you haven’t already, take a look at adding performance testing to your service visits and installations. If you’re new to the concept, start slow. Just add static pressure testing to your processes. With a little bit of training, and a small investment in tools to install test ports and measure static pressures, you can be on your way to differentiating yourself from most of your competition. Want to learn more? Visit www.whypbc.com. For a free step-by-step guide to testing static pressure go to www.ncilink.com/static.
4. Market Your Differentiation. What do you do differently than your competition? Do you offer Indoor Air Quality assessments? Do you do duct cleaning or provide insulation services? Are you a Performance-Based Contractor who provides documented results from your testing?
Be sure to highlight your differences in all marketing and communications to your customers. This includes your website, social media, email campaigns, newsletters, mailers, community involvement, and so forth. Marketing the same products and services as your competitors just gets you lost in a sea of sameness. Be sure to stand out based on what makes your company unique.
5. Invest in Your Web Presence and Social Media. This is a follow-on to Tip # 4. Your website and social media presence are critical to reaching customers today. Not only do you have to appeal to the changing demographic of younger homeowners, but also to middle-age folks, boomers, and even the “silent generation.” Everyone is using the internet more than ever before – just ask my 87-year-old Mom! And when it comes to the internet, content is king. Make your site, Facebook page, tweets, etc., more about learning than about you. Make sure your web presence becomes their go-to place for information.
6. Stop Selling - And Help Customers Buy. When people are in the market for HVAC products and services, most prefer to shop and make good buying decisions. Few people really like to be sold, in the same way most of us don’t like to be told what to do. If your potential customer feels like you’re not trying to sell them, but are guiding them through the buying process, you will start to build the well-deserved trust you seek. This cannot be a sales ploy – it has to be genuine on your part. What’s wrong with having an honest interest in helping your customer through the buying process? And what better way to do that than educating them about their home and comfort system? Using simple testing processes as teaching moments and explaining things in lay terms goes a long way towards building trust and winning people over.
7. Offer Real Financing. Done right, financing can be one of your best tools to help customers afford the high-quality system they need and deserve. Unfortunately, many financing deals do not serve your customer’s best interests. While there is a place for six or 12 months same-as-cash programs, these are best suited for people who already have the money, and don’t need to borrow it. This is usually not the case for the other 90% plus of the population. Such deals can become a trap for customers who put themselves in trouble at the end of the term. They can find themselves stuck with 20% plus rates because they can’t afford to pay off the loan. Do you really want to do that to someone you want as a customer for life? Most people need quality financing to make their purchase affordable. When you can buy down and offer longer-term loans -- ranging from 3 to 7 years or more -- with reasonable interest rates, you can help many customers purchase the right system that will pay for itself over time.
8. Raise Your Service Rates 10%. Chances are you haven’t raised your rates in years. Most contractors don’t because they fear competitors will steal their customers. In reality, if you raise your rates 10%, most loyal customers won’t notice or care. Many contractors have told me over the years that when they raised their service rates, not only did they NOT lose good customers, the few they did lose were their biggest whiners. They were glad to refer them to cheaper competitors. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Are we charging what we’re worth, or are we trying to give premium service competing with low-ball trunk slammers?” You’ll know the answer. Think about what a 10% increase in service rates can do to your bottom line!
9. Invest in Training Your Field People. Technology in our industry is changing faster than ever. New controls, thermostats, equipment, and more are coming at your techs and installers at lightning speed. Couple that with increasing consumer awareness and demand for proven, documented performance. There’s no doubt you must continuously invest in technical education for your field personnel.
Some of the best technical training is also infused with learning how to translate somewhat complex information into consumer-friendly language. When your field people can learn to educate consumers and help them buy the right solutions, your investment in training will pay for itself quickly and many times over.
10. Train Your Entire Team on Soft Skills. While you need to continuously train your people on technical skills, it’s equally important to provide customer service education to anyone on your team who interfaces with customers. It’s hard to win customers over with technical prowess if you turn them off because some employees lack the empathy and skills to “fix the customer first.” While formal training is key to increasing your team’s soft skills, ongoing reinforcement training is the secret to making these skills a long-term habit.
11. Help Your Techs and Installers Get the Tools They Need. As they learn to measure and improve system performance, your field people will need better tools and instruments. If you already have a tool assistance program, good for you! If not, this may be the right time to institute a plan to help them buy the tools they need. There are several ways to do this, and there are some laws you must follow. Once you do your homework (the internet is a great thing), don’t hesitate. Put your plan in place and start helping your techs get equipped to become High-Performance professionals representing your company every day!
12. Reward Performance. Finally, as you begin to implement some of the items above, and see the positive results they bring, don’t forget to reward the people who embrace them and start producing better results, more profitable work, and happier customers. Start with baby steps, maybe with a contest here and there to recognize and compensate your early adopters. Look for leaders that truly embrace what makes you different, and hold them up as examples. Success can build momentum for more success when properly recognized and rewarded.
As 2018 winds down, think about implementing one or more of these things in the year ahead. Don’t try to do it all at once – maybe pick one item a month and focus on executing it before moving on to the next. You’ll find several go hand-in-hand and will be easy to implement at the same time, but pace yourself, it’s a marathon , not a sprint. I wish you a happy, healthy, productive, and profitable 2019!
Dominick Guarino is CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com), one of the nation’s premier Performance-Based™ training, certification, and membership organization, focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. His e-mail is [email protected] For more info on Performance-Based Contracting™ go to WhyPBC.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.