Get Things Done—Step 2: Clarify

In our last two newsletters, we introduced the five-step process in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”  

IN THIS ISSUE, WE’LL TALK ABOUT “CLARIFY.”

Clarify is a two-step process centered on sorting through all of the information and to-dos that come your way. It means reviewing what you have in front of you to make sure you understand it and determining the actionable steps you need to take. For example:

  1. Say you get a piece of mail from your tax accountant. Before you can take the next steps, you need to figure out what the paper is about.
  2. Then, you must ask yourself, “Do I need to do something with it now?”

If “no,” decide if the information should be trashed, will require action someday, or needs to be kept around for future reference. 

If you must act soon, ask yourself, “What is the next action?” If it’s something that will take less than two minutes, get it done now. For example, if there’s a tool on your desk, you can quickly unclutter your workspace by putting it in a work truck. That will also ensure your crew has it on hand when they’re out on their next job.

If an action will take more than two minutes, decide who should handle it. Delegate it if there is someone else who has the skills and time to take care of it successfully. For example, sending financial information to the accountant might best be tackled by your bookkeeper. Or a project manager might be the one to respond to an email from an inspector about a framing detail. If you’re the best person to handle an action, make a note to remind yourself of it or schedule a time on your calendar to do it.

Pro tip: Allen recommends dealing with one item at a time so that you can focus better. Multitasking leads to distraction and mistakes! 

Stay tuned for our next issue when we’ll discuss organizing your to-dos.


Product Spotlight: Porch Posts

Photo courtesy of Superior Plastic Products

Did you know that we carry structural vinyl and aluminum porch posts in many styles from trusted brands, including Key-Link and Superior Plastic Products? 

No matter your customers’ design preferences, we have posts in many varieties and colors to enhance curb appeal while providing stability.

Call us for more information!

*Porch posts are not designed for freestanding applications, such as pavilions. You can find information about load tolerances in our article “Structural Porch Posts: Three Common Questions (and Their Answers).” 


Three Communications Tips to Help You Satisfy All Customers

Every customer is unique in some way, with their own preferences and expectations when working with a contractor. Here are three tips to help you ensure customer satisfaction across the board. 

1. Talk and, more importantly, listen to customers before starting a project. 

Communication takes time, but it’s necessary. Not only does it matter for learning what customers want from a design and functional standpoint, it also allows you to assess: 

  • Their overall demeanor (relaxed and easy-going or demanding and stressed)
  • How they would like you to communicate with them (e.g., phone call, text, or email) 
  • How involved they want to be in the process (for instance, how often they want status updates)

2. Remember that it’s more than just “a job” to your customers.

Resist viewing a customer’s project as “just another job.” It may be one of many on your schedule, but to the homeowner, it’s a big deal. Their deck, patio, or fence is something that will affect their lifestyle. 

When discussing a project, repeat the details back to the customer to make sure you’re on the same page about what they’re envisioning, when the work will begin, how long it will take to finish, and how much it will cost. 

3.  Don’t avoid tough conversations.

If there will be a delay in starting or finishing work for a customer, let them know as soon as possible. The customer may have taken time off work or made other sacrifices to be available based on when you said you would arrive. Communicating news that customers won’t be happy to hear is no fun, but it’s always better to be candid and straightforward. Proactive communication helps show customers that you care—and that can mean the difference between satisfaction and frustration.



Get Things Done—Step 1: Capture

In our last issue, we introduced the five-step process in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.” 

IN THIS ISSUE, WE’LL ZERO IN ON THE FIRST STEP: CAPTURE.

This step involves capturing your tasks and “to-dos” in some way so that you can get them out of your head and come back to them later. Capturing is critical because it frees your mind to concentrate on what you’re doing at the moment while keeping other priorities on your radar. 

To successfully capture things that need your attention, you must create a system that prevents items from falling through the cracks. A system that allows you to centralize information will help you stay organized, and it will help avoid an office or truck cap littered with sticky notes and scratch pads!

A capture system might consist of physical and digital tools. A few examples include:

  • A physical in-box or tray
  • Notebooks
  • Digital and mobile apps (e.g., Trello, Google Drive, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents)
  • Email, text, and voice recordings

Try to keep your items in as few places as possible. The more “buckets” you have, the more difficult it will be to keep track of them. Also, Allen suggests emptying your buckets regularly so that you act on the tasks you captured in your system. 

A good capturing system might mean the difference between:

  • Winning and losing a job
  • Having supplies on time for a project or needing to reschedule 
  • Staying on time and budget or going over
  • Keeping your promise to a customer or failing to meet their expectations
  • Getting referrals from satisfied customers or learning that you’re getting bad-mouthed on social media

It may take some practice to perfect it, but it will be well worth the effort.

Tune in to our next issue to learn about Step 2: Clarify.


OPEN HOUSE 2021: Pivoting the Plan

2020 was unlike any other year—but the same. Despite the unforeseen shutdowns, a global pandemic, and uncertainty just around every corner, which kept us all guessing, one thing that hasn’t changed is our gratitude for the relationships we share with our customers and suppliers. And this is something we are committed to. 

So, this year’s Open House will go on as usual, but with a pivot. Instead of a morning at our facility, we decided to include our Open House Workshop topics in the Homestead Post newsletter as an expanded issue. We hope you find value in the information. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. 

Mervin Beiler

P.S.: We’re looking forward to hosting a customer appreciation breakfast mid-year, after restrictions have eased up. Stay tuned for updates!

Open House Articles 


OPEN HOUSE 2021: 2021. And beyond.

By: Stuart Jeffcoat—CEO, Burgard

By now, we’ve all heard quite a bit about COVID-19 and have seen in real-time the economic consequences. Sadly, many small businesses have been shuttered, and, regardless of what Wall Street looks like, Main Street has suffered the most.

Despite the immediate pain for some businesses caused by intermittent supply chain shortages, many in our industry had a banner year. But this comes as no surprise. Historically, the building industry tends to lag behind overall economic trends by 12–18 months. The fact remains that we’ve not yet felt the full impact
of the global 2020 shutdowns and the ensuing economic fallout.

That means COVID-related economic consequences are about to cause larger-scale disruptions for many builders, contractors, and folks within our industry in 2021 and beyond. While recovery is inevitable at some point, wise builders are currently bracing themselves for a challenging year (or years). 

So, how do you come out of this ahead? What concrete steps can you take to put your business in the best position going into this period of the unknown? 

1. Invest in marketing.
Typically, during a period of economic uncertainty, marketing is the first thing businesses cut. HOWEVER, this is actually the best time to stand out. While your competition is cutting back, get your name out there! Consider whether advertising or other forms of outreach make sense. 

2. Get serious about sales behaviors.
During a time of uncertainty, customers and prospects are often looking for help—even if they appear more budget-conscious. Align your sales plan with this need by focusing your calls and conversations on problem-solving rather than pushing new products!

3. Optimize your systems.
It’s often said, “Change is the only constant.” Take this time to look not just at what your business does, but how it’s done. Are employees in the right roles? Is leadership supporting them in the most effective ways? Are jobs running smoothly? If you’ve been doing things “business as usual” for a while, now may be the time to find a new “usual.”

4. Cultivate an abundance mentality.
Maintaining a positive attitude can be challenging when the building market is uncertain. Focus on believing and knowing there is plenty of work out there for all of us, even if it requires some changes. Keeping a positive mindset while others focus on negativity fosters hope, promotes good health, and offers clarity for productive thinking.

For better or for worse, the economy isn’t something we can directly control. It’s bigger than any of us, even though it affects all of us. Focusing on what we can control and letting go of what we can’t is a perspective we all need to persevere. And it’s a great way to get ahead. Not just now, but always.


OPEN HOUSE 2021: Should I join a trade association?

By: Todd Burgard—President, Burgard

Name any industry, and you will find countless trade-specific associations available to folks within those professions. For us builders, contractors, and suppliers, it’s no different. You may have even considered joining one. In this article, we’ll briefly discuss the pros and cons of industry associations and, hopefully, help you decide whether membership is right for you.

PROS

  • Networking opportunities. There’s no doubt that networking with others in your industry has immense value. Expanding your network can mean qualified-lead generation and synergy with
    other companies.
  • Educational resources & training. Conferences, seminars, and information from industry leaders can be powerful tools to build your business.
  • Representation. Associations can advocate for legislation on behalf of businesses in your industry and sometimes offer legal representation as well.
  • Reputation. Adding an association membership next to your company name can create instant credibility and promote you as a true professional.

CONS

  • Cost. All associations require membership dues and perhaps fees—some higher than others.
  • Time. Your experience will only benefit from participation, which means time. Expect a more significant time investment if you take a leadership role.
  • Guilt by association. Some associations take political or social stances that may not agree with your values. Ask questions if this is a concern for you.

If you’re wondering about membership in a trade association, you may find a better perspective by talking with current members, researching the organization, and interviewing the leadership within your local chapter. Check out their website to see what kind of events they hold and the tools they offer your business. Review their member list to determine if the network of individuals and companies is a good fit for you. And finally, remember that growth—whether personal, professional, or business revenue—should be the outcome. 

In the end, the answer to, “Does it make sense for me to join an association?” would be, “It depends.” Like anything worth doing, you only get out what you put into it. You must weigh the investment of time, the cost of membership dues, and the level of engagement against any potential value you see your business receiving. And, only you can determine that.


OPEN HOUSE 2021: Managing Customer Expectations

By: Dan McHugh—Wolf Home Products

One of the most important things anyone can do in a business relationship is manage expectations. Whether it’s buying a car, a pool, a deck, or a pencil, there is an expectation a consumer has for the product. In our industry, homeowners are doing more and more research on products and have their own idea of how the project will look and perform before the job is even complete.

Fueled by television stations like HGTV and social media platforms like Pinterest, our industry has been blessed with high demand. With this increased demand comes high expectations. It is extremely important for us, as sales professionals, to continue to craft our pitch around our products and services. Understanding the customer’s needs will help manage their expectations for the project. Car salesmen wouldn’t sell a Toyota Prius to someone looking to tow their camper. They also wouldn’t sell a two-seater car to someone who has five children. 

The more we can be looked at as consultants instead of just “salespeople,” the better off we will be as an industry. There is a fine line between over-promising and selling the homeowner’s dream. The ultimate goal is to make the customer happy. Telling them this project or product is going to do everything they ever imagined and more, just to get the sale, will backfire and lose the trust of the homeowner. 

Just like the saying goes, “There’s a tool for every task.” I feel there’s a product for every application. Understanding the difference between capped composite decking and PVC decking is important. Just like understanding the difference between vinyl, fiber cement, and PVC siding is important. Once you know why each product will perform differently in a certain environment, you can help manage the expectations of the customer. 

Being honest and truthful while still allowing your customer to envision their dream space is a hard balance to find. With practice, honesty, and consistency everyone can win.

My favorite example of this is when I get calls from homeowners about washing off their Wolf Serenity™ Decking. When leaves begin to fall or a dog runs across any surface with muddy paws, obviously the product needs to be wiped off or sprayed with water. These homeowners argue that they were told the product was “zero maintenance.” 

To them, the product should clean itself, when we all know that if you buy a Ferrari, you still have to wash the car. 


OPEN HOUSE 2021: How to Take Photos of Your Job

By: Melanie Hess—content writer and marketing project manager at Superior Plastic Products and Key-Link Fencing & Railing.

First, if you really want to use a particular project for marketing, consider hiring a professional. It will cost some money up front, but the photos you get will be well worth it. You can provide a list of important shots to the photographer, or you can go to the shoot and talk through your desired shots.

If you just want some nice photos of your jobs for social media or to share with the manufacturer (hint hint!), here are our best suggestions for taking photos of your job.

1. Be patient.
The job is almost wrapped up, so you want to get your shots and move on. But we’d suggest waiting if at all possible. Taking photos before the project details are complete often means bare dirt, unwrapped posts, construction trash, and more. If you can wait until everything is cleaned up and the homeowner has had a chance to move into the space, you will get the kind of lifestyle shots that really show potential customers what you have to offer them. 

Along the same lines, wait for a sunny day, preferably in spring or summer. Fall and winter photos can be dramatic and beautiful, but you are limited in when you can use them. A fall or winter photo can’t really be used in summer, but a summer photo works any time of the year.

2. Clean up.
We have gotten many photos with dirty fencing or railing, crooked patio umbrellas, or something out of place in the background. When you hold up your phone or camera, look at the frame and imagine it as a photo. What looks off? Should you move something out of the way? Can you wipe down the railing to get rid of the smudges?

3. Take a lot of photos.
Once you are in the finished space on a sunny day, go nuts! Take photos of the overall job, but also include close-ups of angles, curves, posts, or anything that was a bit of a challenge or out of the ordinary. You can use these later for illustration, and other professionals will appreciate seeing how you handled a particular obstacle. Plus, marketing teams would always rather have too many photos to choose from than too few.

4. Don’t alter your photos too much.
Light editing is fine if you know what you’re doing, but your best bet is simply to use your phone to take the pictures and upload them to a cloud-based site or your desktop (and then put them on a portable hard drive to transfer). Today’s phones take high-quality, high-resolution photos that are fine for daily use. Leave the resizing and photo editing to the people who know how to do it. 

If you follow these best practices, your photos will look good and be used often.