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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Over the years, our clients have asked us all kinds of questions. From simple product information and installation tips to complex problem-solving recommendations regarding design/plan/build. When addressing these concerns, our focus is always to add value to our customers and offer this advice to folks who may be trying to solve the same problems.
In 2021 we are excited to share some videos we put together. It’s an easy way of offering a more in-depth and visual exploration of topics in the industry that concern you. They can be viewed here.
Have an idea you’d like to see handled in a video or the Homestead Post? Let us know!
If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to our email list by calling us or signing up on our website. That’s the fastest way to get the latest announcements and updates!
Productivity expert David Allen wrote a book called “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.” Within it, Allen shares practical insight and tips that small-business owners and managers, including those in the building industry, can use to get things done more efficiently and cost-effectively. In our next several newsletters, we’ll break down Allen’s five-step process and share how you might apply them to your business as you juggle sales, bookkeeping, human resources, customer service, marketing, and the many other duties besides your building project work.
In this issue, we’ll begin with a high-level overview of Allen’s steps to productivity.
This step involves getting your decision-making and to-do list out of your head and, instead, captured in some form or other that you can refer back to later. Doing so frees your mind to concentrate on the tasks at hand while keeping other priorities on your radar.
This part of the process is unloading what you’ve captured on your list and determining what’s next. It involves reviewing your captured items and determining what you need to act upon (including details of what that will entail), what you can delegate, and what you can disregard.
This step is about keeping information in the correct spot so that it’s easy to access and ready for use at the right time. It involves sorting items into categories and containing them in some form, such as notebooks, a software application, physical file folders, or a calendar (if the items need your direct attention or have deadlines).
“Reflect” is about stepping back to review everything from a broader perspective. You’ve all heard the phrase “couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” Well, reflecting helps ensure you keep tabs on the fine details and the big picture. By regularly reviewing the items and notes that you’ve captured in your organizational system, you can avoid letting things slip through the cracks and clear out anything that may no longer be relevant.
Productivity depends on putting effort into the right things at the right times. The engagement step involves judging what will be the best use of your available time. Sometimes, forging ahead with actions you planned and scheduled will be ideal. Other times, you may find it more important to tackle an unexpected problem. If items must get pushed aside, the first four steps ensure they remain in view and get attention later.
The Getting Things Done® (GTD) process is similar to building a deck. You don’t build a deck all at once; first, the footers are dug, then the frame is added, and then the decking is placed. These “to-dos” are broken down even further to make them manageable.
Stay tuned for our follow-up newsletters, which will dig deeper into how your business can improve productivity using Allen’s GTD steps!
- Have a strategy.
If you would like to do more of a specific type of project, work more in a particular geographic area, or have more customers in a certain demographic, ask for referrals from satisfied customers who meet that criteria. By requesting those targeted referrals, you can begin to tailor your sales pipeline to opportunities that play to your strengths and preferences.
- Make it a policy.
Ask for a referral soon after you have successfully completed a project. Don’t let too much time go by because you may forget! A casual, no-pressure approach will allow you to ask without making your customers feel imposed upon.
- Follow up quickly.
Reply promptly to calls and emails to prospective customers who were referred by your past customers.
If you fail to respond or wait a long time to get back to a referral, it will reflect badly on you as the contractor and the friend/family/colleague who referred the prospect to you.
- Show appreciation.
Take a minute or two to thank your customers when they refer other customers to you. Whether a phone call, email, card, or (if a sizable project) gift, that gesture will build goodwill and potentially lead to even more referrals.
If there’s one thing we can count on lately, it’s the unexpected. As contractors, you know this more than anyone! With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, a presidential election fast approaching, and other issues at hand, here are some tips for helping your business survive and thrive during these times of increased uncertainty.
- Don’t take success for granted.
Even if your business is in an upswing with plenty of work, realize there might be economic factors hurting other industries that could eventually impact your company. The more aware you are, the better prepared you can be financially for potential downturns.
- Stay vigilant about good safety practices.
With the coronavirus a continued threat, customers are more tuned in than ever before to what their contractors are doing to keep them out of harm’s way. Make sure that everyone at your company is stepping up and following the safety rules and procedures you have in place.
- Don’t adopt a “build it and they will come” mindset.
Staying top of mind with prospects and customers doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires sales and marketing efforts. Put yourself at a competitive advantage by keeping in front of potential customers through your most effective marketing tactics and sales strategies.
Uncertainty, while unnerving, doesn’t have to be disastrous for your business. Stay aware and be willing to adapt to help ensure your company can weather the unexpected.
In this issue of our newsletter, we finish our series on Stephen Covey’s seven habits with Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw®.
At face value, this seems logical—after all, you can get more done with a sharp saw than a dull one. But that’s not what Covey is talking about. Rather, “Sharpen the Saw” involves making a commitment to improving ourselves.
SO HOW DO YOU SHARPEN YOUR SAW?
Make time for personal and professional development to balance yourself mentally, socially, physically, and spiritually.
- LEARN: Read, listen to podcasts, sign up for webinars, etc.
- CONNECT: Even during these times of limited social contact, try to make meaningful connections with other people.
- FUEL YOURSELF PHYSICALLY: You can be a more productive person if you pay more attention to eating well, getting enough rest, and exercising.
- FEED YOUR SPIRIT: Several ways you might do this include praying, enjoying nature, listening to or making music, or by meditating.
HOW CAN THIS HELP YOU PROFESSIONALLY?
Self-improvement/self-development enables you to refocus on your “why.” It can help you step away from the busyness of business and let you think about whether what you’re doing aligns with your business’s goals and objectives.
While it may seem challenging to carve out time for self-improvement, consider the advantages for you personally and your business. Whether 15 minutes every other day, an hour every other week, or a chunk of time during your business’s slow season, find opportunities to “sharpen your saw”!