Low cost ways to grow your business

Installers with ambition tend to be constantly seeking new ideas on how to grow their businesses. The following article looks at some of the lowest cost options. Those are the ones that should be tried first.

Get your name out

Word of mouth remains the main route to new business for any installer serving residential customers. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t help the process along. After all, there may be many years between big projects and a customer may have come across rivals in the meantime.

That’s why it’s such a good idea to keep your name in front of them. You want your business to come to their mind when they are wondering which installer to use. A lot of ways to achieve this are very low cost, particularly in contrast with services like Rated People and My Builder. Many of these ideas are fairly obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of repetition:

•Give business cards to every customer and every prospect. This is incredibly cheap and even though a lot will end in the bin, even these remind people of your business name

•Put details of your business in big lettering on every van

•If it doesn’t create a problem with the client, erect a board outside their premises

•Get everyone to wear a company uniform. Cheesy, yes, but again it reinforces the company name in people’s minds and should make you all look smarter as well. Seeing people around jogs the memory of old prospects as well as promoting yourself to new clients

I find it strange that some businesses will splash out for expensive advertising when they haven’t first tried everything that is low cost and free.

Create happy customers

Growing your business is best done by satisfying your customers. Happy customers tell their friends about you and recommend you. Happy customers come back for more. Happy customers trust you and aren’t so price sensitive. Finally, it’s worth remembering the lesson about customers with problems. If you fix them quickly they will be even more loyal than customers that never had a problem in the first place.

Be quick on the draw when it comes to quotes

To grow your business, you have to win quotes. The problem is that many installers hate paperwork, and creating quotes probably qualifies as the most tiresome of the various paperwork tasks. This creates a dilemma, because responding quickly is one of the best ways of winning business.

In Powered Now’s survey of over 1,000 homeowners, 75% expressed frustration at getting quotes from trade companies. 11% were frustrated “to a large extent”.

One of the interesting factors is whether you should worry about your availability. Remember that after you win a quote you can negotiate the start date as most people will wait. That is especially true when you explain that you don’t compromise on quality or job length by starting and then disappearing off site. Being in hot demand suggests to your customer that you are worth waiting for.

The more work you win the faster you grow and the more you can gently increase prices. Simply responding to quotes faster means that you can be more picky and in particular avoid customers who talk about price too much.

Use a computer system

The world has changed a lot in recent years. Virtually everyone carries around in their pocket what would have been regarded as a super-computer just a while ago. Its ease of use makes old desktop PCs look positively medieval. A computer system for your business will cost money but should save you much more in greater efficiency.

Installers, particularly smaller ones, have been very slow to adopt technology partly because it hasn’t been good enough, partly from fear it will be too difficult to use and partly because the hatred of paperwork often extends to anything associated with it. Finally, old style systems weren’t mobile.

With the adoption of smartphones that has all changed. With the downsides gone, there are several companies, including mine, Powered Now, selling smartphone, tablet and PC based systems that are being adopted very quickly.

In a survey of our clients, the average time saved per week by the business owner was around three hours. They also reported better cash flow, more orders won and a number of other benefits.

The point is that this time saving can be used either to grow your business or have more time with family and friends.

Have your own web site

The age of yellow pages is long over. Although people continue to use personal experience or recommendations from friends as their way of finding installers, around 30% still look around. A lot of those searching use Google.

You should try searching for the services you provide in your geographic location. That will let you see what the web says about you as well as the local competition.

It’s actually an obvious thing to have a web site. It enables you to control exactly what is said about you. It’s cheap, particularly using a service like wix.com. Your information won’t change much from year to year so your maintenance cost should be low too.

Only do what you do well

It seems very natural to quote for every opportunity that arises. But it can pay to specialise or decide that you won’t do any of the specialisms.

You have only started practising this when you start saying no to work. If you don’t do this, you will never get the full benefits. For instance, think of installing garage doors. A contractor might specialise in these, but more likely decide not to do them at all, instead focussing on being a generalist. This takes discipline. Only doing what you do well should yield the following advantages, all of which will help you to grow:

•Respect. When you know your trade really well, it makes customers feel more comfortable. Most people understand that it’s unlikely you can be good at everything. That’s why people use main dealers to get their cars serviced, even though they cost more.

•You should be more efficient. That is because you can do jobs faster at a lower cost. It means higher profits or lower prices or a bit of each. Practise makes perfect in terms of being faster and getting better volume discounts.

•You are much more likely to win business if customers are particularly looking for your speciality. For instance, you might only ever install Worcester Bosch boilers.

Mark Goodchild of electric-call.net puts it this way: “We don’t cover all types of electrical installation as it’s impossible to be good at everything. For instance, we don’t do solar. This decision came through experience".

Optimise pricing

It’s a common saying that even a bad sales person can sell a ten pound note for nine pounds. Your pricing should fairly reflect the work that you do, provide a margin of error to cover problems and then a decent profit on top. Price should be the last thing to compete on except when you are very first starting out. Funnily enough, you won’t be able to grow if you price too low because you will never have the resources to enable growth.

Plan and be organised

My business partner knows someone who used to be the marketing director at B&Q. Amazingly, he said that trade companies buy up to 30% of materials “on the day” from the likes of B&Q. That means that they miss out on trade prices and the credit that comes alongside. Plus it takes a minimum of an hour out of a job when you have to “pop out” to get materials. Being well organised should eliminate this. It means a lower cost of materials, a speedier job, less time wasted and better cash flow. All of this is great for growing your business. What’s not to like?

The bottom line

I hope that many of the ideas here are obvious because doing complicated things can be the enemy of success. Ironically, getting around to doing the obvious is often a challenge. Doing something exciting and less likely to succeed can be more appealing. In that light I hope that you find this article an encouragement to get on with the simple stuff. Good luck!

Emma Dyer