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How to Predict Your Bottom Line

February 26, 2018 • Running a service business hopefully gives you some freedom and an opportunity to do what you really enjoy. But running a service business is hard. Running a profitable service business is even harder. Marketing to customers, hiring qualified staff, maintaining equipment, negotiating costs, billing, insurance, scheduling...these are the realities of your everyday existence, and they require a lot of work. That said, if this was all easy, everyone would be doing it, so if you're currently running a services business or thinking about starting one, kudos to you for having the courage to go out on your own. But going out on your own is one thing; making a nice living doing it is the real goal. To know how successful you can be, you need to have a way to really see the health of your business and predict profitability. Doing so will help you plan better and position your company to grow, increase revenue, and earn the kind of living that makes all the effort worthwhile. You know as well as anyone that this isn't a charity; you do all this work because you want to get paid. But with so many variables to keep track of, it can be hard to focus on the actual bottom line and make the necessary adjustments about where to where to invest, how to manage effectively, and how to allocate your time. There is a hugely helpful tool called a break-even analysis that can help you understand your business and begin making better decisions that will have a positive impact on your bottom line.  Analysis that offers insight At its simplest, the break-even analysis boils down to this: how much do I need to sell in order to break even with the labor, materials, services, and other costs I have? This is especially important in the services field where you have different types of employees you have to pay, insurance that is unique to the work you do, and materials you have to regularly use on jobs. All your costs fit into one of two categories, and it's important to understand these because it's how you define all the money that you spend and invest to keep the business afloat. They are: Fixed costs: These include costs that aren't dependent upon the amount of work you do or don't do. The rent for your building stays the same whether you have 10 customers or 100. Your business insurance, vehicle payments, and equipment costs are all examples of fixed costs. Variable costs: Some costs scale up or down based on job volume; those are variable costs. Labor will be the biggest one of these, especially when you are paying employees hourly or by the job. You may also need to bring on additional people for seasonal work. Supplies are also heavily dependent on both the amount of work you're doing as well as market prices. Costs for materials can usually work in your favor when you buy in high volume, but can also work against you when you have to make one-off purchases when business is slow or when you can't predict the potential for more work. To truly understand the financial state of your business now, and the possibilities for profit in the future, you have to be clear about all your costs and understand which category they fall into. Then you have to be thoughtful in conducting a break-even analysis to get perspective on where you're making and losing revenue, and how to make adjustments to get on course to profitability. The benefits of break-even analysis It's important to recognize why this analysis is important. Too many business owners operate on a day-to-day plan, which gives them no insight into the future and reduces their ability to control growth. These owners may be happy if bills are getting paid, but then are shocked when they have no reserve funds for when the business hits a bump or a slow season. If you put some effort into thinking through your business, you'll see that you can plan ahead, both to stave off any downturn in business, but also so that you can grow the business and increase profitability. The idea is that, with a little effort, you'd be surprised how much you can learn, and then if you're willing to make the necessary changes, you'll get better margins. That will ultimately give you more money to invest back into the business, as well as more money in your own pocket. Most of the analysis starts with just being smart about your overhead costs in relation to the number of jobs you will need to carry out to break even. You should start by identifying all your fixed costs, and then break down how much each job will cost you in terms of labor, materials, and other things. Then factor in what you're charging (and make sure it's in line with market rates, which you can learn by doing some basic competitive reconnaissance) and determine if you're making a profit. Now you have a sense for what you are making or losing. From that, you can make smart decisions about additional costs that come up. Can you afford to pressure wash all your equipment or purchase a new truckmount? Knowing where you stand financially will give you a far greater sense of what's available to spend. Keep in mind, however, that some of these expenditures will be a necessity. If you need a new transmission on one of your trucks, well, the money you spend to fix it will be less than the amount of money you'll potentially lose out on without the truck. So think in terms of "must haves" and "nice to haves." Even costs like a company picnic or holiday party can be adjusted based on the funds you have available to you or that you can reasonably predict through this analysis. Otherwise, at the end of the year, you could be stuck looking at a negative balance sheet and wishing you had curtailed expenses earlier in the year. The importance of planning Understanding your business through the lens of its financial strength can help you also set business goals and revenue targets. Doing that can get you and your employees focused on generating new business rather than just waiting for the phone to ring. Proper analysis can tell you the number of jobs and amount you need to bill in order to break-even, and even how much work you need to do to create incremental revenue. Having targets and making them transparent to your employees provides everyone with a very understandable set of goals, and it helps them see how they contribute to the company's success. Planning ahead through predicting profitability also helps you determine how much you can take on in fixed costs, as well as how many variable costs you can tolerate and still remain profitable. Insight into your financial health might help you make a decision to fix existing equipment rather than taking on more debt to purchase new items. As a business owner, you know how frequently you face decisions like this, and how frustrating they can be if you're making them without the proper knowledge of facts. You also can be smarter about how you price your goods and services if you know how much you have to make for the year. While it may seem like a good idea to just undercut your competitors, if you do that and lose money, you won’t have gained much of a competitive advantage. Then again, if you can reduce the prices you charge in some areas with the knowledge that you can still turn a profit, you can be strategic about how you price, when to offer special discounts, and how much negotiating room you have when working with customers. That gives you greater flexibility and will help customers see you as a flexible partner. The formula Not all businesses are alike, so keep in mind that you have to know your own business really well in order to benefit from the actual analysis. That said, services businesses usually function according to one of two ways of looking at how they bill, and how they put their resources to work for their billable projects. The following formulas can give you the data you need to get as close to spot-on as you possibly can in terms of predicting your profits for each of these three different types of service business types. Let's break this down: Example 1: Unit = Clients In this type of business, you are billing your clients almost completely for services. Goods and materials aren't part of your business and therefore most likely won't be part of your calculations. Fixed costs For this business, let's say your fixed costs are $260,000 for the year. This includes staff, office space rent, utilities, insurance, and other costs. In this case, salaries are a fixed cost because they are paid irrespective of the number of clients or hours billed. Sales price per unit We estimate that the average amount of time needed per client to satisfactorily deliver services is about 100 hours per year. Based on market rates, you know you will charge $125/hour, which means for each client you'll earn, on average, $12,500 per year (and you thought you were done with word problems in high school). Variable cost per unit As we know, there are variable costs that will eat away at profits. We don't know which clients will cost more and which ones will have very few variable costs, but based on previous years' variable costs, we estimate that additional staffing, marketing materials, fuel, and other costs will run us about $2,100 per client, per year. Based on all this, we can use this formula: Unit = Client FC = Total Fixed costs = 260,000 SP = Selling price per client = 12,500 VC = Variable cost per client = 2,100 Service business breakeven clients = FC / (SP - VC) Service business breakeven clients = 260,000 / (12,500 – 2,100) = 25 We will need 25 customers in order to break even. Let's look at what our balance sheet would look like: Unit Total Clients 25 Revenue 12,500 312,500 Variable costs 2,100 52,500 Gross margin 260,000 Fixed costs 260,000 Net income 0 Example 2: Unit = Hours This is a business that charges by the hour, and we want to see how many hours need to be billed, and at what rate, in order to break even. Fixed costs Fixed costs of the business are $85,000. This includes things like office rent, telephone, insurance, utilities, and some staff (office staff, for example). In this example, the labor costs for those employees working in the field is variable, based on the number of hours worked. Selling price per unit The per-hour cost for all services is $125. Variable cost per unit The actual labor cost to the business (salary and benefits) is $50 per hour. Since labor is increased or decreased based on customer need, it is considered a variable cost. The business also estimates that any additional time spent with a customer beyond normal job scope amounts to an additional $7 per hour. Here's our formula: Unit = Hour FC = Total Fixed costs = 85,000 SP = Selling price per hour = 125 VC = Variable cost per hour = 57 Service business breakeven hour = FC / (SP - VC) Service business breakeven hours = 85,000 / (125 – 57) = 1,250 This business will need 1,250 billable hours in a year in order to break even. A basic income statement for this business would look like this: Unit Total Hours 1,250 Revenue 125/hour 156,250 Variable costs 57 71,250 Gross margin 85,000 Fixed costs 85,000 Net income 0 Nothing is perfect At this point, you should be able to put one of these two formulas to work, depending on your type of business. However, it should be used as a gauge and not as gospel. There are still variables and unforeseen issues that will creep into your business that you will miss if you only rely on your new break-even analysis. In other words, use this to help you predict and plan for your business operations, but don't become a slave to it. Keep your eyes open for all types of things that factor into everyday business scenarios. Bear in mind that, most importantly, the analysis can't tell you how much demand you're going to have. If your business is pumping water out of flooded basements, and this happens to be a severe drought with no rain in sight for months, there's no analysis that will tell you business is going to be slow. You also have to make sure you are using reliable data points, structure your units and prices correctly and are thorough in identifying and accounting for both variable and fixed costs. Be brutally honest with yourself in terms of how to evaluate the various parts of your business. Also be aware that you have to sometimes do things to beat the competition, and that can require costs you don't expect. So, again, use the break-even analysis as a signal, but don't think that it totally defines every aspect of your business. A tech company CEO once said, "Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong." With all the data available to us today, there's no reason to leave the future of your business to chance. Use the information you have to gain perspective on where your business is now and where you want to go. You know your business, so you know how you can adapt and change in order to get to your destination, but you have to know what that destination is. Know your costs, know your abilities, and make a smart plan for not just breaking even, but for being wildly profitable.

Pat Flanders, Guest Author

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The Art of Asking for Reviews

February 20, 2018 • When it comes to asking for reviews, timing is extremely important. When a customer doesn't leave a review, it doesn't necessarily mean they didn't love your product or service. They may be absolutely thrilled. It may be the best purchase they've made in months. But you just contacted them at the wrong time. Maybe they were busy, or just don't feel like typing a review at that moment. Happily, timing is a battle we can win, here’s how. Ask During Peak excitement If your customer loves your product or service, they're most likely excited about it right after receiving it. Presenting a review invitation as soon as possible after the transaction is completed increases your response rates significantly. So what do you need to do? A) Develop a good habit of sending after each purchase B) Or even better, get a system that sends review invites automatically after each purchase Send reminders Even in peak excitement, our customers have lives. They're doing things, and just may not be able to write a review right when we'd like them to. Instead of just being disappointed that our customers didn't respond to our review invite, we can do something about it. We can send review reminders over the following weeks and try to reach them when they are ready to leave a review. It's important to use software like NiceJob to automate this process, otherwise, we all know it just won't happen. When to send reminders Sending review reminders at the right time can mean the difference between a new 5-star review and no review. Let's use what we know to help us discern how to effectively send review reminders. Our customers are busy and have lives so we want to send the first reminder soon, but not so soon that it irritates the customer. Sending the first review reminder after 2-4 days is a good starting range. Sending just one reminder may not be enough. It's important to keep nurturing your customers to leave the review, often it takes 2 or 3 reminders before you get them at the right time and they leave a review. One caveat on this, there's a fine line though between making sure the reminders are helpful and starting to irritate your customer...send too many reminders too close together and you can lose a fan. Make sure you’re sending these reminders via email, and the initial invite via SMS text message. SMS is much more personal than email making it great for your initial invitation to leave you a review, but a bit overbearing for follow-ups. It’s also important that once someone has left you a review you’re no longer sending them follow-ups. This will at best annoy your customer, and at worse, cause them to change their positive review into a negative one. So how do you send effective review reminders? Send the first friendly reminders soon, but not too soon Send 2 or 3 more reminders over a period of a few weeks after the job finishes Make sure your review invite system detects if the customer has left a review and if so stops sending reminders; otherwise you could irritate your customers. Contact Management & Sending Invites Remembering and managing everyone’s contact information, sending out invites to those contacts after you’ve done business with them, and knowing whom of those you invited to leave you a review actually did so you can stop following up with them is not only a mouthful, it’s an arduous and lengthy process if done manually. Software like Housecall Pro can manage your contacts for you, and when integrated into a review marketing platform like NiceJob, you can have your customers be automatically enrolled in review campaigns where they are unsubscribed automatically from receiving follow-ups after they’ve left you a review. You can set up this system to literally run on its own so all you ever have to do is finish a job in Housecall Pro, and respond to customers who leave you reviews, either to thank them or resolve any issues they may have. Using software system setups like the NiceJob integration with Housecall Pro saves you thousands of hours of managing reviews that you can instead be spending managing all the new customers these reviews will help you acquire. Should You Incentivize Reviews? In a word, no. It’s the great product or service you provide that should be the incentive. If you delivered, it isn’t a big deal to ask for a review. Most customers are happy to do it. The trouble is, many businesses don't ask. For those that do, most only ask once. It often takes more than one request. Incentivizing customers to leave you reviews can also actually hurt the trust people place in your existing ones because it can look like people were bribed into giving them. This is essentially the same thing as fake reviews, and having a reputation for being fake, is less trustworthy than having no reputation at all. Instead of incentivizing reviews, simply make it as easy as possible for people to actually leave you reviews. Once again, software can help you do this. The Takeaway Timing is really important if we want to get as many reviews as possible from our customers. Send review invites as close to peak excitement as possible Send regular reminders to make sure you contact the customer at the right time. Don’t incentivize reviews To send review invites at the right time, and frequency you either need to organize a really good in-house plan or skip all that work and use a system like NiceJob to automate the process.

Connor Wilson, Director of Growth at NiceJob

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Creating an Effective Call-to-Action

February 20, 2018 • You’ve spent a lot of time building a great website for your business. Now you’re wondering how you can utilize it to gain more customers. We all know how important driving traffic to your website is for your business. It’s one thing to get a lot of visitors to your business' website, but those high numbers don't mean a lot if you’re not increasing conversion rates. In order to drive your customers to book a job with you, you’ll need to create an effective call to action or CTA. What is a CTA? A call to action prompts the customers visiting your website to take the next step and engage with your company. This includes downloading an offer, signing up for a newsletter, getting a free evaluation or booking a job. It’s your opportunity to ask your visitors to take action and work with you. In order to ensure that you’re capturing the most customers, check out these five strategies for creating an effective call to action. Once you have a structure set, gaining more business will be easy as C-T-A.   1) Answer the 'why' First and foremost, your overall website design should inform visitors of the value they will receive by following the CTA. Review your site and ask yourself, "Why should they click on this button?" Make sure you give them a good idea of what they’ll gain from following your CTA by including relevant content and a clear message. 2) Location, location, location Brick-and-mortar businesses know how important it is to be in the right spot to bring in customers. Look at your CTA as the ‘front door’ to your online presence. In the past, it has been recommended that the CTA be "above the fold," meaning your visitor can view it without having to scroll. Since websites are all different and there are now multiple parts of the page, you should consider placing a few throughout, providing multiple ‘doorways.’ Make sure the CTA is the most actionable item on your page. Research indicates have your CTA on certain sections of the page will result in more clicks based on the readers natural viewing pattern. Pro Tip: Consider using CTAs in a mid-page sign-up strip, incorporating a sticky form that follows the scroll, or adding a side navigation panel with your sign-up form. Marketing Experts also move their CTA form to the bottom, increasing their conversion by 20 percent. Test a few different placements to see what works best for you. 3) Create a sense of urgency You want to make the call to action memorable but also create a sense of urgency. Text on the button should inspire immediate action. A few examples you could try are: Act now Call today Don't delay Reserve your seat Try not to be passive. Your text should be emotionally charged. Urgency compels consumers psychologically, and this works to improve your conversion because, as marketing expert Neil Patel points out, visitors will act quickly without overthinking it. 4) Colors and fonts A great way to show urgency and importance is to use color schemes that pop and draw attention. Contrast the words on your button to make them pop out from the background. Check out some of these successful CTA examples and try a couple to decide which color works best for your business, different colors evoke different feelings. Marketing experts do warn against using black, brown or white, so keep that in mind when you’re choosing your color. 5) KISS it "Keep it short and simple," or KISS reminds you to stray away from overthinking it. If you want visitors to leave your site with one thing, it should be available by clicking on your call to action. Remember that less is more: The font should be readable. Make your text interesting and action-oriented. Don't make the call to action too long. Have some open space on your button Don't make the button too busy or cluttered. Don't forget CTAs should be common sense. Yet, as essential as they are to driving new business, the Content Marketing Institute says CTAs are "among the most neglected of content marketing components." Take the time to understand who your target audience is, examine your website's messaging and guide your visitors to the path you want them to take with clear but simple call-to-actions.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

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Determine the Best Customers for Your Business

February 20, 2018 • Customers are what keeps your business running. In order to continue growing your company, you need your customers to book your services. There are two types of customers that drive revenue for you. Current customers that rebook your services, and new customers. The question most business owners run into is who you should focus on. Should you go after new customers, or focus on keeping existing customers happy? Naturally, we feel the need to focus on both, but that may not bring you more growth. If you focus too much on customer acquisition, you might end up neglecting your existing customer and lose them. On the other hand, if you focus too much on customer retention, you limit your growth potential because you are not gaining fresh customers. While getting a new customer can be five to seven times more expensive than retaining an existing one, new customers are crucial for businesses that have not built a big customer database. So which should you choose? Here are some helpful strategies to help make the decision that’s right for your business. Customer acquisition drives growth The entire focus of a new business should be on growth, which means acquiring customers and making them loyal. The first step in customer acquisition is properly identifying your target audience and deciding the most effective marketing methods to reach them. Once you know your audience, you’ll need to set a budget to determine how much content you can post, how often to post, and on how many channels. You want to aim to hit a sweet spot where you are acquiring customers at the lowest cost possible, and you might need to get a little creative. Social media platforms have become the best way for businesses to share content that resonates with their audience without breaking the bank. Live video streaming, short video tutorials and lead magnet offers are low-budget/high-yield marketing strategies that can quickly build your customer base. Customer retention offers stability If you have been in business for a while, and you have a solid customer base, then retention may be the best strategy for your business. While a lot of businesses might think that marketing to their current customers is redundant, it’s actually the more cost-effective way to go. Marketing to existing customers is less expensive because they don’t need to be warmed up to who you are and what you offer, so you're paying a lot less than when you are trying to acquire a brand new customer that’s never heard of you. Just because they’ve done business with you before doesn’t mean you don’t have to continue reaching out to them. It’s important to still make your existing customers feel valued, which means marketing to them in different ways. Offer frequent discounts/gifts. A great way to show your appreciation is to send them a discount or a gift in return for the business they’ve given you. It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive, even a small discount will be appreciated and will keep you top of mind for when they need to book you again. Send 'thank you' emails. Retention marketing can be as simple as saying thank you. Your customers are giving you their hard earned money for your service. A simple way to do this is to always follow up every job with a ‘thank you’ email, leaving them with a positive memory with you. There are even some tools out there that automate this process for you. Host exclusive live video events for customers. If you have a Facebook or Instagram account you know what I’m talking about here. Live videos have taken over social media, making them a great way to remind your customers who you are and the service you provide. Make your video fun by giving them behind the scenes look at your business. You could even do a live “how to” video with tips and tricks from your industry. It’s a great way to maintain the relationship with your customers. Upsell Another great way to gain more profit from your current customers is by upselling. An upsell is when your customer hires you for a service and they end up booking an upgraded or additional service from you. For example, if you’re cleaning someone’s carpets and you convince them to add an additional room or a more advanced treatment. So which strategy should you focus on? One misstep that some businesses make is that they want to acquire new customers but forget to keep their existing customers happy. That is a losing strategy, because what good is spending money on acquisition if you end up losing those customers because of poor retention strategies? You have to remember, you don’t own your customers. They may book a service with you one day, but the only thing preventing them from going to another company is the relationship you build and the quality service you provide them. When you’re just starting out, of course, you'll need to focus on acquisition. However, as your business grows, you will need to focus on your relationship with your current customers. You’ll find that by building those relationships you’ll gain new customers through good reviews and referrals. The truth is you will need to acquire and retain well to succeed. The key is knowing when to push more for new customers, and when to throttle it back and maximize the customers you already have.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

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Acquiring and Keeping Customers With Email

February 19, 2018 • Email has become a key piece in the lives of almost everyone. With 3.7 billion people globally using email, and 269 billion emails being sent every day, it has become the most important and effective way for individuals and organizations to connect. And while some complain that they struggle to maintain the order of their email inbox, the fact is that people prefer email and are more receptive to the messages in emails, than almost any other form of communication. According to MarketingSherpa, 72% of consumers prefer email as their source of business communication. Combine that with the fact that for every $1 spent on email marketing will return, on average, about $38 in income. While social media and other forms of marketing are certainly offering creative ways to reach customers, email continues to be the most proven, cost-effective, and easiest way to connect and engage with your customer base. If you're still not convinced, consider that after working with a service provider, a customer has a 27% chance of working with that person again. If they engage their services a second or third time, they have a 54% chance of working with that provider again. But, in order to keep those people engaged, it's important to maintain ongoing communication with them, and email is the way most people want to be reached. The beauty of email marketing is that you can automate much of it which makes it more effective, and it saves you a ton of time. You set up the offers, content, calls to action, and distribution lists, and then designate dates you want the emails sent. A little upfront work results in your ability to stay connected with your customers continuously, all while providing a personal touch. That initial effort, however, is critical if you want to use email effectively as a way to acquire and retain customers. You'll need an email automation system, but it needs to be something you can set up and manage easily. The right tool will enable you to quickly input email addresses, create templates, and schedule various email sequences. Let's look at how to create and manage email marketing program to achieve maximum success. Convert a looker into a customer A big advantage for field service businesses is that customers generally seek out vendors when they’re ready to engage. Unlike shopping for a car, which can take months of looking around, most customers of field services either have a problem that needs resolution fast, or they are prepared to get started on a project for which they've already planned. People will do their research by coming to your website to learn about you, your business, special offers, and to potentially book an appointment online. The best case scenario is that they book that appointment, but in reality, most aren't ready to do it right then and there. That's okay; since they're on your website, however, use forms and pop-ups to collect their email address so you can follow up with them through your email automation. If you do that, you initiate a relationship and remind them who you are, what you do, and that you're available to them. Your automated email campaign should space out emails about 2-6 days apart, which will keep you top of mind and increase the chances of conversion. Getting these window shoppers to finally book with you can be done with these types of emails: Email 1: A friendly reminder For prospects (people who have given you their email address, but haven't yet worked with you), you can use reminder emails to do two things: 1) remind them of services they probably need ("When was the last time you had your ducts cleaned?", or "The rainy season is over. Let us help you get the mud out of the carpets with a Spring Cleaning!"), and then 2) remind them of you. If you offer them a new customer discount or provide some other incentive to work with you, it will help them because you’re delivering a solution, and they won’t have to go searching for a vendor to work with. Email 2: Overcome the objection The fact is, some people have a hard time committing. Prospects will have objections and excuses for not booking an appointment, and while this is normal, it's also something you need to overcome to get that next appointment. This email is an opportunity for you to put their fears at rest, which you can do in this email by doing these kinds of things: Trust:   Include testimonials from other customers. Highlight your high Yelp or Facebook ratings. Tell them how long you've been in business. Cost:   Explain your payment plan or other information that might help them get over the fact that they're going to have to spend some money they might not want to spend. Procedures:   Many people are hesitant to engage because they don't know what to expect. You might explain in the email the different steps involved in servicing them. This sets expectations and helps them understand that it isn't as disruptive as they might have thought. Email 3: Discount and attract This is where you'll start to see people pay attention because people love to save money. You can offer loyalty discounts to existing customers and new customer discounts to people who haven't yet engaged with you. Perhaps it's seasonal and you're offering discounts for "spring cleaning" or "winter preparation" services. But seeing terms like, “discount,” “25% off,” or “introductory special” will get people’s attention. This is not a time to go crazy by giving away the farm, however. Be reasonable and set an expectation that your work and expertise has value. That said, it is five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. So go ahead and offer deeper discounts for new ones. Existing ones may not even need a financial discount; maybe they get a free pound of gourmet coffee when they book by a certain date. Either way, use this email to encourage them to book quickly. Email 4: Grab their attention At this point, your name will likely be familiar to your customer and even if they haven't made an appointment, you and your services should be top of mind for them. What's also needed at this point is a bit of convincing to get them beyond the looking stage and into a booked appointment. The recommendation at this point is to go easy on the sell and heavy on the education. Provide a tip, and do so in a way that presumes they might already be on board with working with you. In fact, you might even preempt things; rather than, "20% Off Floor Refinishing", you want to go with something like, "Tips on How to Maintain Your Floors After They've Been Refinished." By now, the prospect or customer should have a feel for how you communicate and it would be great to throw in some humor or some other attention-getting comments to make them take notice. I recently got this email, and I can tell you that it got my attention: Subject line:  It's my grandpa's fault Body:  My grandfather served in the Marines in the South Pacific in World War II, and again in Korea in the 50's. Built a business from scratch, could fix anything, and knew how to grill a steak to perfection. He taught me to never give up, which I guess is why I'm still holding out hope that you and I are going to work together. I'm here when you're ready, so just let me know. In the meantime, I'll be working on perfecting a medium rare tri-tip. Even if the prospect doesn't move forward immediately, you will have made a remarkable impression. Turn a customer into a cheerleader You've got a customer, but you want to keep that customer and keep him or her happy and always looking to call you when they need work done. For these types of email campaigns, you may want to be a bit more strategic and maybe even schedule them in a way that maps to the customer's actual appointments and services. Some jobs only need to be done yearly, while others more frequently. That doesn't mean you can't send emails other than just reminders and special offers for maintenance, but make sure you factor the job recurrence into your email sequences. It’s best to space out your emails on these topics: Email 1: Thank you This first email is to keep your brand on their mind. For existing customers, this is a no-brainer. Everyone likes to be thanked, and this is a way to immediately imprint your brand on them. Getting a thank you email makes you appear friendly and grateful for the relationship. For every customer, after you service them for the first time, you should then immediately schedule automated reminder emails about the need for tune-ups, maintenance, regular cleaning, or any other service they will need in the future. Unless you remind them of who you are, they may choose a different vendor in the future. Email 2: Educate your customer OK, so they've worked with you, but what makes you special? Maybe the service was good, but how do they know they shouldn't try someone else next time? Here's where you can gently do some education that will give you the aura of expertise, and people prefer working with experts. This isn’t hard to do. Most industries have their own publications and websites that provide all kinds of great educational material. For example, a quick perusal of Pest Control Technology Magazine from December 2017 yielded this great piece about ticks in the winter. Apparently, most people think ticks aren't a problem in the winter, but this piece dispels that. Use some of the information in a piece like this to make your customer smarter about issues that could impact them, and use it to drive a little business your way. Email 3: Remind them that you’re ready to serve These are opportunities to strengthen your relationship with these customers, which you can do by reminding them of the date of your last service with them, and that you’re ready to jump in for the next appointment. A nice touch is to remind them of the specific service they had with you. Some of these reminders will be seasonal in nature - spring cleanings, winter preparation, rainy season. Others are annual maintenance visits or check-ups. People actually like receiving reminders because it reduces the number of things they have to clog up their brains with. It ends up looking like a nice gesture, actually, because you're providing a convenience, and that convenience will likely be very helpful in converting that person into another appointment. Email 4: Do the customer a heavy We all need a favor from time to time. And in our line of work, we know most customers don't abide by a tight schedule of service appointments. Rather, they delay making decisions, they forget to book a visit, or they just hate parting with the money it'll take to make some minor maintenance. So this is where you get to be a good guy - you can offer a discount or a special offer of some kind for overdue services. Maybe you schedule this email to go out 1-3 months after the date of the annual check-up visit. This would be a time to communicate something along the lines of: "Hey, I know how things can get busy, but wanted to remind you about getting that service done. Let's not let that furnace run into problems, so here's an offer for 20% off the yearly maintenance visit. Just give us a call and we'll be there whenever it's convenient." You'll be seen not just as a source of a discount, but as a trusted advisor and will create loyalty among these customers. Email can be used in many different ways, and we'll explore more of those in future blogs. For now, however, invest the time to set up some automated campaigns that will keep you in direct contact with your customers, help them stay connected with you, and provide them with an easy way to know you and remain loyal customers.

Pat F

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The Significance of Customer Reviews

February 14, 2018 • Happy customers often return, and many tell others about your business. But leaving this word of mouth to chance isn’t your best move. To get results, businesses need to be proactive and go after reviews by requesting them. According to one study, only about 13% of small businesses ask for reviews. Many say they don’t think it’s appropriate to ask or don’t have an easy way to get reviews. But to put it plainly, when you request reviews, you increase your odds of getting them. Most customers are happy to provide a review when asked. The trouble is, most do not ask. Here’s another thing to consider concerning reviews. While word of mouth referrals are within a small network, it’s online reviews that create much more visibility. The more positive reviews you have, the more likely it is that customers find you, because they not only improve your visibility in Social Media, Google My Business listings, and other review sites, they also help with your search engine rankings. While word of mouth is great, online reviews take things to the next level. It’s digital word of mouth on steroids, increasing your chances of referral traffic and ability to acquire even more customers. The Challenge of Online Reviews Many customers are willing to provide reviews. At the same time, most need to be asked more than once. People are busy, and while they mean well, aren’t always available when you ask and often forget. Imagine this scenario if you wanted to take control of your online reviews manually: You send just 3 requests a day, between Monday to Friday. The next week you do the same. But you also need to send reminders, so from all the people that you invited or requested to provide a review need a follow-up reminder. That first week, with a minimal 3 requests a day, is 15 reminders. Unless someone provided a review, which can happen, most will need a reminder or two. So if you send 15 requests in a week, which is on the low side, and you’re 3 weeks into the process, you now need to send reminders for the past requests. Without getting too deep into the math, that quickly becomes 50 emails to send per week. Now let’s be realistic here. Do you really have the time, energy, and data to not only be sending out these 50 emails (minimum) a week but to also be sending them each out at the best possible time for them to be received? With review marketing automation software like NiceJob, this process becomes easy. You only send the initial review requests and invites, it does the rest, automating follow-ups for you, and if you integrate it with Housecall Pro, it will even automatically send the initial requests for you as well. It’s A Numbers Game More review invites (and reminders) equal more completed reviews. With more reviews, your visibility improves, and you start to see more reviews and sales. While more than three quarters say they are willing to provide a review, only about a third eventually do. If you only ask once, that probably drops to less than ten percent. This is why it’s so important to not only follow up with your customers for reviews, but to make it incredibly easy for them to leave you one. Using tools like NiceJob, you can provide a quick and simple interface for your customers to leave reviews on all of the important review sites for your business. It’s a Process, Not A Set And Forget Strategy Consumers look for a few things, and it’s not just the star ratings. When consumers look at review websites, they’re looking for social proof to help validate a decision about giving their business. This is to mitigate the risk they face by giving you their money for your services. They don’t know if you’ll do a good job and if they’ll get their money’s worth, so they look to reviews to help them alleviate those fears, or to validate them if a service provider is a bad one. The most important factors considered are the star ratings, overall sentiment, frequency, and recency of the reviews. It’s also a growing concern from consumers that businesses respond to reviews. Another consideration is customers that are referred by other customers are over a third more likely to have a strong retention rate. That’s the power of word of mouth. Star ratings It’s not just how many reviews you have, it’s the quality of them and the subsequent average rating that give important signs to most consumers. Overall sentiment It’s important to reply to almost every review, good or bad. How you handle engaging with customers that may have left negative sentiment on a review is seen by others. In situations where a customer was dissatisfied, how you go about responding to negative reviews is known to affect others in reading them and their decision to do business with you. Recency of reviews Not only does the overall rating of your reviews matter to consumers, how recent your reviews are is also a consideration for those looking to decide whether to select your business over the competition. About 73% of consumers believe reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant, and 44% say a review should be written within one month or less to be relevant. With these many consumers believing that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant, it’s essential that you not only manage your reputation but keep a steady stream of fresh reviews. Frequency of Reviews Even if you have a few recent reviews, the rate at which (frequency) they’re acquired is almost as important as how fresh they are. The number of reviews you have is important to some consumers. Your typical consumer prefers to see businesses have at least 34 reviews on average before they feel they are able to trust the accuracy of a star rating for a business. Businesses with less than this number are often assumed to have simply gotten their friends or employees to write them their reviews. This is much harder to fake with a greater number of reviews, making them more trustworthy when more numerous. Reputation Management The more reviews you have, the less likely that a poor review will have an impact on your overall rating. As an example, if you only had 5 reviews and a negative review came in, it would bring down your overall rating far more than if you had at least 20 or 30 reviews in total. It would stand out more and be much easier for customers to find. Consider this scenario - a potential customer is in need of a product or service you offer. Unless they have a favorite place to go already, most will either ask their personal network of friends and/or family for a recommendation, or they’ll search for a solution themselves. This is a process that happens millions of times each day. Now, what if they saw one of their friends had left your business a review? They would trust that business more than one that didn’t have this review. Why? Because they trust their friend, even if they don’t know you, that friend’s review is a public declaration of trust in your business. Reviews and Local Search You should also know that online reviews affect local search and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which are another primary channel for customer acquisition. Online reviews impact local search and SEO by about 12%. Given the hundreds, if not thousands, of different factors search engines use to rank websites like yours, this is a huge impact on your SEO. The quantity and overall ratings are just a few of the signals considered. Another major factor of your SEO is having a website that is updated with new over time, rather than staying static, which search engines will eventually come to see as outdated content and rank it lower. Reviews are an excellent stream of fresh new content that you can use to keep your website updated. Convert is one website product that can not only help you do this but also make sure that those website visitors become leads for your business. While lots of hard work goes into building a reputation, it’s important to remember that your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what others say it is. For those new to your brand, your reputation and first impressions are often influenced by online reviews or social media and what others have to say. If these are neither numerous nor positive, they will often keep on looking for other providers and not even make it to your (hopefully good) website. To help manage what’s said about your business, ensure the customer experience is as positive as possible and aim to not just meet but exceed expectations. Doing so, you’re much more likely to see positive sentiments within reviews, and have more control over reputation management. Word of mouth has its rewards, but you have to earn it. What if I don’t have any Reviews? This can have a negative effect. Many consumers believe that not having any reviews is almost as damaging as having several bad ones. By implementing an action plan and process (we recommend using software to automate this for you), you can start building your reputation and acquire online reviews from past customers. But if you don't have any reviews, it's not something to put off. They influence consumer decisions, as well as help you to appear within local search results. The longer you wait to implement a review system, the more time you’re giving potential customers (and their friends) to become loyal to competitors. 59% of consumers look at 2-3 review sites before they make a decision about a business 87% of people say that a business needs a rating of 3-5 stars before they will use them The Takeaway If you want more referrals and reviews, it's essential to make it part of your process. That means sending requests often, and practically every day. When it comes to business, many experts will tell you that your brand is the most valuable asset you own. In some cases, it can represent the best of something for a local market. The best bakery, the best place to get a car, the best place for dinner? Reviews are what gives a business this brand reputation, and they're also what gives the brand value if you ever choose to sell it by making that reputation transparent to potential buyers. More than half of businesses are not making use of online reviews, yet over 90% of consumers trust and rely on them to help make decisions for purchases or local products and services. This means if you start collecting your own online reviews today, you will stand out.

Connor Wilson, Director of Growth at NiceJob

Where to Find Influential Review Sites

February 13, 2018 • Everyone knows how important customer reviews are to gaining more business. The question isn't whether or not you should be asking for reviews, but rather where should you be asking for them. While there are many different review sites, it is important to know which are most important, after all, directing a customer to a review site that has little impact on your business to leave a review, is one review you’re not getting on a review site that does. We recommend four main review sites to focus on for Housecall Pros and home service businesses. Google, Facebook, Homeadvisor, and Yelp. Google Without a doubt, the reviews on Google My Business are powerful. Most consumers will turn to search when looking for info on a local product or service, and Google has the largest market share when it comes to search engines. Within local search results are businesses with reviews appearing almost 95% of the time. If you haven’t registered your business with Google, do so immediately. Near 50% of businesses have yet to do so, and it’s one of the easiest ways to create exposure and more customers for your business. When you’ve verified your business with Google, your reviews not only appear in search results but can also appear on map searches as well. One of the first things someone does when deciding they need a product or service, such as window cleaning, for example, is to search “Window Cleaning {Their City Name}”. 95% of people only view the first page in search engines like Google or Bing when searching for someone. This means if your website isn’t on page one of that search (if you’re a window cleaner), you’re practically invisible. Google My Business reviews are one of the best possible ways to rank higher, which makes a lot of sense since Google will always rank their own content highest on their own platform. Facebook Most know the popularity of Facebook makes it a great place to have a business page, and to get reviews. Whenever someone leaves a review on Facebook, their friends get a notification in their feed and are often curious enough to click on it and see it. Additionally, Facebook recommends pages to users that their friends have left reviews on. Here’s how it looks: This is literally the digitization of word of mouth, and it’s incredibly powerful. Even if people are not searching for your service on Facebook, they’re sure to remember it when they go looking on Google if they’ve seen a friend leave you a review on Facebook. Be sure that your Facebook review tab is visible and activated. If it isn’t, your great reviews will be hidden from potential customers. You may have been on a Facebook page of one of your favorite businesses and noticed you can’t leave a review. It’s because they haven’t activated the option to leave Facebook reviews or feedback. To activate reviews for Facebook, visit the settings on your Facebook page. Next, scroll down inside the General section to where it says reviews and turn them on. HomeAdvisor We recommend focusing review collection on HomeAdvisor since it holds more top 3 positions in search than other home services review sites. This will help your search rankings and increase your visibility on a platform popular with homeowners for finding such services. Angie's List has a significant amount of pages indexed (meaning found by the search engine but not necessarily ranking on page 1), but less than half for top 3 positions when compared to market share in-home services for HomeAdvisor. ThumbTack followed close in third, and Porch.com trailed behind. In addition, as of October 2017, HomeAdvisor has actually merged with Angie’s List, meaning the reviews you collect on HomeAdvisor, will show up on Angie’s List. Yelp In addition to Google and Facebook, one other platform most businesses don’t want to overlook is Yelp. It’s big, and not to be ignored. It’s not advised to request reviews for Yelp as it goes against their terms of service but you can display a badge on your website or offer a link. This indirectly suggests it would be appreciated and complies with their terms. Unfortunately, because of Yelp’s strict policies, they do not allow software to be used to collect reviews on this site. In most cases, however, people find Yelp listing through a Google search, which means if you have lots of Google My Business reviews, Yelp becomes increasingly less important.  Be sure to respond to Yelp reviews and others, regardless whether they're positive or negative. Also be wary of running ads on Yelp. Many users have ironically found these actually resulted in less business and fewer reviews than had they not run the ads since they look less genuine. Many ads on Yelp are fake, which is partly why they have updated their terms of service to prevent review collection, so if it looks like you’re paying-to-play, you might actually be shooting yourself in the foot. The Takeaway Focus your efforts on Google (for ranking high in search), Facebook (for generating lots of online word of mouth), HomeAdvisor (for ranking high in search), and Yelp (because consumers still trust it - this is changing, however, as people continue to increasingly use Google maps instead). Trying to collect reviews on other review sites may have some value just so you’re visible there, but the vast majority (90% or more) should be spent on Google, Facebook, and HomeAdvisor, with most of that going to Google and Facebook. By using these two in a combined approach you can build awareness and loyalty for your company before people are looking to buy with Facebook reviews, and then remind them of this loyalty and trust when they find you in search with Google My Business reviews. You can select which review sites you want customers to have as options to review you on using software like NiceJob.

Connor Wilson, Director of Growth at NiceJob

Utilizing Analytics for Your Business

February 13, 2018 • Analytics has become one of the most powerful tools for service businesses. Not only are they used to better understand your customers, but they also help you to make better-informed business decisions and ultimately more money. If used properly, a service business will be able to stop wasting time and money on what’s not working, in order to shift the focus on what is. In order to beat your competition, it’s important to use all the resources that are available to you. Analyzing your data can seem like a pretty daunting task, especially if you haven’t really had any experience doing it before. Luckily we live in a time where we have the technology and resources to make it easier. To get you started, we’ve broken down the key terms to know in addition to some tips and tricks to keep in mind along the way. Analytics 101 Before we dive into the world of analytics, the following are a few frequently used terms that are important to know. Cost of Acquisition (CAC) - The amount you have spent to acquire one new customer. For example, if you gained 10 new customers from an ad that you spent $50 on, your CAC would be $5 per customer. Lifetime value (LTV) - The predicted amount you will make from one customer. For example, if your customer books a $100 service with you every 6 months and you expect them to remain your customer for 5 years, their LTV would be $1000. It’s important to make sure you’re LTV remains higher than your CAC. Return on Investment (ROI) - Your ROI is the ratio between your net profit and the amount you spent to get it. To calculate your ROI you need to take the amount you made on the job and divide it by the amount you spent. For example, if you made $500 on a job and spent $50 on marketing materials to gain that job, your ROI is 10%. Churn - When one of your customers quits doing business with you. You want to make sure you’re acquiring customers at a higher rate than the rate of those that churn.  Useful Tools Now we can move on to the tools available to you. Like we said earlier, it’s important to take advantage of all of the resources that help grow your business in order to get ahead of your competition. There are a lot of different tools you can use to make navigating through analytics easier, below are a few basics to start with. Google Analytics - This tool tracks and reports website traffic. That way you can see how many people are looking at your website and compare that to how many of those people signed up. Once you have this data you can address any changes you may want to make to your website in order to increase your conversion.   It is also integrated with AdWords, so you can review your online campaigns to see which ones are performing well and aren’t in order to allocate your money to those that perform best. Quickbooks Online (QBO)- Quickbooks allows you to track a number of things including: income, expenses, sales, time, and inventory. You can also run reports on your profit/loss, expenses, and balance sheets. This keeps all your reports and data in one place where you can easily check in on your success and your spend. Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) - A CRM program will help you manage data regarding your customers. There are a lot of different CRM’s out there that focus different aspects of the customer experience. This can make it hard to pick which one your business needs. You want to look for one that lets you keep track of where they came from, any important customer information, and all of their customer history. Avoiding mistakes Unfortunately, it can be easy to make mistakes when you’re using analytics. Businesses can fail at analytics for numerous reasons, but none of them are impossible to overcome. Some businesses are afraid of taking the time and effort to learn how to use some of the difficult analytics tools. Others mistakenly believe that their business is too small to use its data. The companies that have learned how to use analytics tools and realize their importance are often confronted with the challenge of what to do with the data in front of them. Naturally, failing to confront these challenges head-on can have negative effects ranging from a simple set back to a much larger issue. Attempting to run a company without using analytics as a guide is like trying to race a car blindfolded. Without learning how to best leverage your data in the favor of your business will result in falling behind your competition. Analytics are needed to give your business a direction and grow. Doing data right To start using your data effectively, it’s important to focus on what really matters. Leadership should look at the key performance indicators and ignore all the distractions. Some data isn’t necessarily useful for the goals of your business, and data shouldn’t be accumulated for the sake of having it. Instead, you should create data that has a clear and driven purpose.  Keep in mind, the ultimate goal should be to drive revenue. In order to reach this goal, all of your marketing channels (where your leads come from) should be separated and analyzed based on their cost, reach and customer lifetime value. Doing so will help determine which channel is the best for your business and which provides the best return on investment (ROI). Asking the right questions One of the most important things to remember is that data is only valuable if using it helps you gain more customers and revenue. Your data should aim to answer foundational questions such as: Who are my highest paying customers? What is my best-performing marketing channel? How can I increase my customer lifetime value (LTV)? What additional services might my customers want? Answering these types of questions will allow you to create long-lasting relationships with your most valuable customers and ultimately drive additional revenue.  If you utilize your data the right way, it can be your best friend. However, if you aren't harnessing its power correctly, you’re leaving money on the table. That's why it's so important to take advantage of all the new tools available to you, like Google Analytics and Housecall Pro.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

Why Online Booking Matters

February 12, 2018 • To build a business, you have to get the business Running any business has its challenges. When you’re in a field service business, those challenges are compounded because you have to DO work at the same time you’re trying to get new customers. Without dedicated back-office and marketing teams, small businesses need to be creative and resourceful in how they attract and retain customers. One of the most proven ways to increase business is by being there when a customer needs you. And even though you can’t be available 24/7, you can essentially be open for business if you provide your customers with the ability to schedule appointments with you online. This inexpensive functionality you can put on your website, Facebook page, and your other social media channels, makes it convenient for customers, reduces the timely scheduling work you normally do over the phone, and it offers a customer service benefit that differentiates you from your competitors. Online booking is more than just offering customers a handy self-service calendar on your website, however. It is proven to be major advantage in helping businesses manage their time more effectively, increase service jobs, and build trust with customers. Moving from Paper-and-Pen to Digital Building relationships with customers is an important part of doing business, but scheduling a service appointment with them doesn’t require a phone call anymore. Think about your current system for booking appointments. No matter how effective it has been for you, it probably involves multiple steps, and it requires you or a co-worker to be on a phone call. The standard way of booking an appointment with a customer has typically involved phone calls back-and-forth, a written record of customer name, contact information, date/time of appointment, and notes about the services needed. It’s time consuming and inefficient, and doesn’t provide an easy way for you to follow-up with the customer later. By putting the phone down and allowing an app do your booking for you, you’ll give customers what they want and start to eliminate tedious and unproductive management headaches. Your business will also stand out from the competition. Let the technology work for you Inc. Magazine says, “Research shows that 91 percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. And they make that decision quickly: 68 percent form an opinion after reading between one and six online reviews.” The fact is, online reviews and the network effect of customer approval are hugely important to you obtaining new customers. If you’ve built a loyal following and have a presence on Yelp, Facebook, YellowPages.com or other local listings sites and social media tools, customers will find you. But in today’s world, where people want everything immediately, the ability to commit to a scheduled time with you will win their business. Online booking gives them what a phone voicemail message cannot deliver - confirmation and peace of mind. The typical American consumer’s digital usage (smart phone, tablet, desktop) peaks in the hours from 5pm - 9pm; those are hours that you’d probably prefer to avoid customer calls. If all you offer is phone-based scheduling, you’re going to always be playing catch-up through back-and-forth voicemails, all of which will happen when you’re supposed to be servicing other customers. Online booking means that even if you’re sound asleep, or busy with other matters, you can be open for business 24/7. Become the professional that customers want If you can use positive online ratings to attract new business AND provide those customers with an easy way to schedule your time, you will be a go-to choice for customers every time. Be a proven, attractive option that enables fast and easy scheduling, and your business will be competitively indefensible. On top of that, a trend among younger customers that impacts business is the growing reluctance to make phone calls. Many have become accustomed to managing their lives online and phone calls just don’t fit into their daily list of action items. Mobile intelligence firm, Informate, conducted a study that explains that American consumers prefer online communication over voice calls. PatientPop, an agency that specializes in market intelligence for healthcare providers, found that almost 50% of customers prefer online scheduling over booking through a phone call. Why force customers to make a phone call when they don’t want to? Online booking fits the way they operate every day and provides them with convenience they expect. Eliminate headaches & make your business more efficient Every phone call you take to schedule an appointment is a distraction from billable work. And every call you can’t take because you’re busy is a potentially lost opportunity. Using the phone to schedule calls is a constant battle for your attention, and as your business grows, it becomes harder to keep up in that battle. OK, maybe 10 minutes isn’t that bad. But what about a chatty customer? Or a bad connection? That could double the amount of time on the phone. And no customer wants to feel like they’re being rushed - it’s a huge turn-off and negative word of mouth can spread even before you’ve even had a chance to make someone your customer. If business is good and you’re getting multiple calls each day, it can easily become an hour or more of time away from productive work. But also consider the other things you have to do to confirm an appointment. Maybe you have to check work schedules to ensure that an employee can make it to the job site. What if you discover there was a conflict you forgot about while you were making the appointment? Tack on an additional 3-5 minutes to figure those and deal with the back-and-forth of just your internal details. Then consider the potential for an endless game of voicemail tag when you have to call the customer back. An online booking application automatically fills your calendar with appointments that meet your requirements and parameters, all without you having to waste a minute of time in the normal back-and-forth of scheduling details. Online booking from a field service management specialists like Housecall Pro can provide major benefits that will improve how you operate your business, including: Reduce wasted time: With appointments being booked online, you’ll have more time to service your customers. An online booking system collects all necessary information for jobs, which helps you stay focused on billable and productive activities. Attract customers that are committed: Customers that have to wait for a call back may decide to take their business elsewhere. Customers that book online make a commitment to you and the job they’ve scheduled. More effective employee scheduling: Ditch the master calendar on the wall, and switch to online booking which automates schedules and informs employees when and where they’re supposed to be. Lower marketing costs: Give people the option to schedule an appointment through your website, Facebook page, or other social media channels, making you are a customer-first business. Build trust with customers: When you book online, you can trigger automated alerts and calendar reminders to customers so they know you are committed to their business.

Matt B., Marketing Coordinator