Hang in there; better days are ahead

This year, 2010, has got to be a good year for business, at least better than 2009. I can’t remember a worse year for the industry in the 52 years that I have been involved with construction. What should a contractor keep in mind as we work our way back to a decent economy?

I was talking with a friend recently who is well versed in the housing industry. He travels the country visiting his offices every week and has a good handle on where the construction industry is. He thinks that new construction is still 18 to 24 months away from recovering.

That is not good news for those involved in new construction. However, he said he’s noticed in his travels that remodeling work is picking up and looks like it will remain strong and keep getting better as the economy recovers.

If you want to be one of the surviving businesses, you need to focus on the work your customers really need to have done. You have a much better chance at adding to or repairing existing buildings than you do building new buildings. There will be new buildings built, but remodeling will be the majority of the market for the immediate future.

At the recent National Frame Building Expo in Louisville, I conducted a session on “Getting Your Phone to Ring.” If you missed that show, you missed a good one. Here are a couple of things I can add that might help you attract new business.

Snag some new business
First, you need to get financing lined up for your jobs. With a little research and effort, you can find lenders that will finance jobs for good customers. Financing is a necessity for many jobs and if you can help your customer secure it, you stand a much better chance of getting the job.

Now, have you ever been to a strip mall or one of those giant malls where they have stores stacked on stores? What do you do when you walk past a store that is vacant? If you are like me, you look inside and either think about what used to be there or wonder who will occupy that space next.

How about placing your company signs in those windows? Maybe a display of before and after pictures from jobs you’ve built? All it takes is a phone call to the owner to ask permission. Offer to pay for the space if needed. The worst they can do is tell you “no.” If you’re walking past and looking in, you know others are, as well. Let them learn about you every time they look in. What do you have to lose?

Here is another thought. Do you advertise in local newspapers or magazines? Why not put the same money in thank you cards? Send one to everyone you meet and talk with, every sales call you go on and one to everyone you sell something to. Tell folks “Thank you.”

Include your business card in the thank you envelope and then go one more step and ask them, “Who do you know that might need our service? We pay a finder’s fee to you for referrals when they purchase our services.” It will cost a stamp — and of course, the finder’s fee that you’ll be happy to pay because you made the sale.

Phone calls are golden
Now, when the phone rings, answer it. The #1 complaint listed by over 70 percent of your customers is you don’t return your phone calls. Phone calls should be returned the same day or by 9 a.m. the next day. Return all phone calls. No stories; no excuses.
Don’t hide behind a stupid answering machine because you think it makes you look like a “big company.” It doesn’t – it makes you look like the government, and just as incompetent.

If you have one of those answering devices that tell the caller to push 2 to talk with you, 3 to talk with your spouse, 4 to talk with the janitor, 5 to talk to somebody who might care, please get rid of it. It’s an annoyance to most callers. That answering device is costing you lost sales and money because you are losing their trust. Answer your phone the old-fashioned way; surprise them.

Mind your manners
When you go on a sales call, make sure you show up on time, properly dressed. Conduct yourself with professional decorum, ready to do business.

Don’t do what your potential clients expect from a contractor, which is showing up late or not at all. The appointment time is your first promise to a potential client. If you can’t keep that promise, what other promises will you break? Show up on time.

Be sure your sales procedure includes asking the four basic questions of your customers as you interview them to see if they qualify to buy from you. Those questions are covered in our book “Profitable Sales, A Contractors Guide” on our web site.

A well-organized sales presentation will garner far more business than the “I will show up and tell them everything I know and because I am such a nice person they will buy from me” approach used by too many. Sales is the highest paying hard work and the lowest paying easy work there is. If you are in business, you are in sales. If you want to be successful, you must learn how to sell.
When you leave for a sales call, be sure your vehicle is clean and full of fuel. A dirty vehicle is not impressive. Your potential client can rightfully assume that you will take care of their building like you take care of your own vehicle.

Being late because you ran out of fuel is even less impressive. If you want to be paid like a pro, you must act like a pro. By the way, invest in some quality signs for your vehicle. It makes a difference.

Web site wisdom
At the Frame Building Expo, I talked at length about Web sites. Let’s review just a few things.

It is extremely important that your company has a Web site. It isn’t that difficult to get started. Our Web site, www.markupandprofit.com/how-to-get-a-website.html) has a page that can help you understand what you need, and how to get it done.

Your site should show your company name and phone number at the top RIGHT of each page. If potential clients can’t contact you easily, they won’t.

Many of our coaching clients are getting 40 to 60 percent of their new leads from their Web sites. If your page is not bringing in new leads on a regular basis, it is time to change the site and perhaps it’s also time to change the  company that built your Web site.
SEO (search engine optimization) is important; not all Web designers build sites that can be easily identified by search engines.

Hang in there. Let us know if we can help.

Michael Stone is a business coach, speaker, consultant and management trainer with more than 50 years in the building industry. He wrote “Markup and Profit: A Contractor’s Guide” and “Profitable Sales: A Contractor’s Guide.”

He offers business management assistance to construction-related companies with audio and CD programs on his Web site, as well as coaching and consulting services. Find him at www.markupandprofit.com, by e-mail at michael@mark
upandprofit.com or at 888-944-0044.

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