There’s a lot more today to being a successful contractor than swinging a hammer. Knowing how to use spreadsheets, track overhead, bid jobs, order materials on time, and manage employees are all critical to running a successful business. But with the housing industry slowing, contractors have to know even more about sales and marketing, or they’ll run short of work.
Ironically, sales and marketing is one area few small contractors know much about. It’s time to learn.
Years ago, I installed material for a large door and hardware company. The owner of the company — determined to provide full-service customer care, as well as maximizing sales — developed “cheat sheets” for all his counter people: lists of materials a customer might need for a variety of projects, from installing new doors to changing out closet shelving. One day he told me: “If someone comes into my store to buy a front door, I want them leaving with everything — the door, the hinges, the lockset, the weatherstripping, the threshold, the sill nosing, the door bottom, the sealer for the bottom and top, and a peep, too. And if it’s a pair of doors, I don’t want them buying the flush bolts and astragal somewhere else! Why lose the sale when I’ve got them at my counter!”
That same approach applies to contractors and how they handle their customers. Whether you call it a slowdown, a tightening, or a recession, the fact is, contractors’ phones aren’t ringing like they used to. One way to generate more work is to use the resources we already have — existing customers.
Some people call it upselling, but that’s an overused and misapplied word, one most craftsmen would prefer to avoid. Customer care isn’t about selling — it’s about helping.
Learn how to use your passion and enthusiasm for the craft — your understanding of architecture and design, your experience with home construction — to help your customers with home-improvement plans. For instance, if you don’t have a portfolio, start one.
The truth is, most homeowners don’t have enough familiarity with construction or design to know the broad variety of possible upgrades available for their homes. Ironically, most contractors operate their businesses passively: they depend on projects suggested by homeowners. Like the last couple on a dance floor, contractors and clients often stare at each other across the room, without speaking. For a contractor without a portfolio, a large percentage of work is left on the table, never even discussed.
Use your portfolio to encourage customers, plant seeds, suggest additional home improvements for the future, so that your customers will be happier, their jobs will reflect a sense of craftsmanship and better advertise your services.
There’s no better profit center than finish work. Mouldings and built-ins are the least expensive way to add beauty and warmth to a home. Many homes today are empty shells, blank canvasses, eager for details that create character and charm. If a customer wants a bid on crown moulding in their dining room, suggest wainscoting, too, or a coffered ceiling. Even if they can’t afford bookshelves, a window seat, or a new mantelpiece, always step up and make suggestions, so that in six months your phone will still be ringing.