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Let's Talk Money: A Guide to HVAC Profits, Salaries, and Revenue

February 4, 2019 • The HVAC industry is growing faster than ever. By 2023 , the HVAC system market is expected to reach a value of $251.6 billion. So, what can you do to maximize your piece of this size-able pie? If you’re an HVAC business owner, you should start by developing a clear understanding of how to calculate profit margins and optimize your income. By taking steps to increase your profit margins now, you’re setting your business up for success as the market expands. This article looks at average HVAC profit margins, salaries, and expenses to help you decide how to set your prices and pay your technicians. We’ll also talk about simple changes you can make to optimize your profit margins. How Much Should You Charge for HVAC Services? This can be tricky to answer. People get squeamish when you bring up money. But the bottom line is, you’re running a business – and a business needs to be profitable to survive. That means you’ll need to think strategically about how much to markup materials and how much to charge per hour or per job. Start by Determining Your Break-Even Point Before you can turn a profit, you need to charge enough to cover basic materials and labor costs. So, start by figuring out your break-even point. That is, what’s the absolute minimum amount you need to charge to cover your expenses? Once you have this baseline figure, you can use it to help set your rates and optimize your margins. Here’s how to calculate your break-even point for any HVAC job. Step 1: First, add up all of your monthly costs for running the business, including bills, rent, licensing, and equipment. Then, divide the total by the average number of jobs you do per month. Step 2: Next, estimate how many hours each job requires and multiply it by the hourly cost of your technicians and other staff members. This should include hourly wages as well as any additional benefits you offer, like health insurance. Step 3: Calculate the costs of all materials and equipment required to complete the job. Step 4: Add these numbers together to calculate your break-even point. If you were to charge a customer that exact amount, you’d recover all your expenses – but wouldn’t make a cent of profit. Now that you know your break-even point, you need to factor in your desired profit margin and markup costs accordingly. Setting HVAC Costs: How to Markup Materials and Labor Many HVAC business owners treat profit margins and markup as the same thing, but these are two different numbers – and to make a healthy profit, you need to understand both. Markup is the difference between your break-even point (i.e. what you pay for parts and labor) vs. what you charge the customer. You need to know how much a part costs you before you decide how much to charge for it. Keep tabs on fluctuations in market prices to avoid short-changing yourself if costs go up. Standard markup on parts is 100% for non-retail items, which means you can bill the customer for twice what the part cost you. Labor markup ensures you’re making a profit off the time your technician spends completing a job, rather than just enough to pay their wages. Your profit margin is the percentage of sales that represent profit. That is, how much you’re earning back in relation to the total amount invoiced for. You can set your prices by using your desired profit margin or markup on individual costs. To determine how much you should charge for a 40% profit margin, for example, you would divide your total costs by 1.60. So, if your overhead costs are $500 for a job and you want a 40% profit margin, your calculation would look like this: $500 / 1.60 = $800 Education is the #1 Factor that Impacts HVAC Technician Salary If you’re wondering how much to pay an HVAC technician, there are several factors to consider. According to a 2018 survey , the most critical factor that affects an HVAC professional’s salary is their level of education. While the median income for all non-owner HVAC professionals is $55K, techs with certifications and degrees can command a higher salary. This makes sense, since the more a technician is able to specialize within your field, the more potential value they can bring to your company. Here’s how education can impact average earnings: Almost two-thirds (61%) of HVAC professionals have some form of industry-related education. Four out of five (80%) people surveyed have an EPA Section 608 certificate. Those with an undergraduate degree in HVAC-R make an average of 32% more than someone with just a Section 608. How Much Do HVAC Owners Make? Of the HVAC professionals surveyed , 12% were business owners. While technicians often assume their boss is taking home the majority of company profits, this is far from the truth. Here’s what the survey uncovered about HVAC business owner income: HVAC business owners have a much larger income range than their employees. Average owner income is $598K per year, but the median income for owners is only $76K. One owner surveyed claims to take home a hefty $20MM per year. These numbers suggest that a very small portion of HVAC business owners are making serious bank, but the median income for owners is only 21K higher than that of employees. 6 Ways to Increase Your Average HVAC Profit Margin 1. Minimize the Cost of Acquiring New Customers Customer acquisition cost is the amount you have to spend on advertising and sales to get one new paying customer – and it’s often a significant cost that can eat into your profit margins. In fact, one report found that acquiring a single new customer costs HVAC professionals between $200 and $300. If you can minimize your acquisition costs, your profit margins will go up. Experiment with direct mail, email marketing, and social media marketing to get noticed by your target audience. Ask new customers how they found out about your business. When you find a type of advertising that works more effectively than others, shift more of your marketing budget towards those efforts. 2. Keep in Touch with Existing Customers Even if you can cut down your cost per lead, it’s much more cost-effective to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one. So, if you can sell more services to your established customer base, you’re automatically increasing your profit margins. One way to increase sales from current customers is to offer maintenance agreements that bring in recurring monthly revenue. You can also use direct mail and email marketing to keep your company top-of-mind for existing customers during slow months. This is effective because it not only fills up your schedule during the off-season, but it also frees you up to service new customers who are more likely to contact you during the busy season. 3. Add Value Instead of Offering Discounts There’s a time and a place for providing discounted services – for instance, during a serious lull in the off-season or to reward customers who give you referrals . However, most of the time, you should try to avoid lowering your rates – especially if you’re looking to boost your average HVAC profit margin. If you want to attract new customers without cutting into your profits, add more value to your existing offer. So, rather than promoting a 10% discount for first-time customers, focus on communicating added value instead. That could mean throwing in an added bonus that won’t cost you anything, like beefing up their warranty or priority service in the case of an emergency. 4. Invest in Your Team Members Putting together an amazing team doesn’t mean only hiring seasoned pros. You can and should invest in fresh talent who can learn from your more experienced techs. Not only do junior technicians have lower salary requirements, but they’re also easier to mold into the perfect employee and are often eager to learn more about the industry. Your techs are the lifeblood of your company, so it’s worth investing in developing their skills. By encouraging team members to specialize and earn new certifications, you can inspire them to build a long-term career with your company. If you invest in your team today, you’re strengthening your business and setting yourself up for a more secure financial future. 5. Track All Your Data in One Place The first key to maximizing profits is to know exactly how much money you have coming in, how much is being spent, and how your costs break down. Using a home service business managing tool like Housecall Pro makes it easy to keep tabs on your cash flow, customers, invoices, and profit margins. Plus, you can accept credit card payments with our mobile app, which means you get paid before even leaving the job site. That means no more overdue invoices or time spent chasing customers for payment – which is great for your bottom line.

Stephen Altrogge, Author

TOPIC: Guides

Home Service Business Trends: 8 Shifts that are Reshaping the Industry

January 8, 2019 • The home service business is trending big time right now. Valued at roughly $600 billion, the US online on-demand home services sector is growing rapidly. According to The New York Times, the on-demand home services industry is expected to post a compound annual growth rate of nearly 49% by 2021. What’s happening here? Part of the answer: it’s generational. We’ve got a huge contingent of consumers who now live on the internet, coupled with busy lifestyles that prefer their services on-demand through that medium. Another part of the equation: mobile accessibility. Smartphones bridge the worlds between real world services and instant online services. If you can order that new toothbrush to your door, why not schedule a plumber to fix the sink too? The two go hand-in-hand for most consumers these days. This nascent dynamic creates a new context for consumers and service providers. High-quality service becomes essential as customer loyalty is vital to survival for businesses in the sector. Beyond quality, there are other keys to the home service business kingdom. To help you navigate this increasingly competitive landscape, we walk through the top home service business trends here. Changes to the Home Service Business Market Understanding how the home service business market is changing is key to your success. Who are the customers? What does the talent pool look like these days? How tight or fragmented is the market? The following trends provide important insights that begin to answer these critical questions about the industry: 1. Older Demographic Drives Spending Older homeowners are still driving the market with both the size of their market share as well as their overall spending power. In 2015, they constituted just over 51% of home improvement spending with that number expected to reached 54% by 2020. This age group is growing and reaching them therefore becomes even more critical. Facebook is a vital venue for connecting with this customer segment given that 72% of 50-64 year-olds and 62% of those over the age of 65 use the social media platform regularly. 2. Tighter Talent Pool As is the case with many industries, finding the best talent is a major pain point in the home service industry. For example, a third of remodelers (via Qualified Remodelers Top 500 Remodelers) surveyed in 2016 noted that recruiting and retaining talent was their biggest challenge. This also dovetails with millennials pushing workplace cultural changes as they become a bigger part of the workforce. This generation demands a better work environment, so consider focusing on better defined career pathways, more learning opportunities, and improving the employee experience with enhanced communication tools. 3. A Highly Fragmented Market Meets Aggregation One thing that won’t change in the home services market is that it is highly fragmented. There’s a low barrier to entry and lots of poor service providers persist within the market. At the same time, aggregators that offer customers access to all sorts of home services will continue to appeal to customers with local providers offering flexible schedules and low prices, regardless of the quality of their services. This means that providers have to offer, at a minimum, all of those benefits along with superior service to stay ahead in the game. Customer aren’t always weighing all of those criteria equally, so make sure you’re ticking all of their boxes because they all will affect your bottom line. Current Shifts in How Home Service Are Being Offered After looking at customers and providers in the market, it’s important to assess the new ways in which services are being offered within the market itself. These shifts are occurring, in part, due to economic and technological macro-trends and they have very specific implications for the home service market. 4. Greater Commoditization of Services With the merger of HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List as well as the rise of services like Amazon Home Services and Local Services by Google, consumers have more and better options at their fingertips. This means that they are beginning to look at home services as more of a commodity, with a deeper focus on reviews, response time, and pricing. Looking forward, consider revamping your paid search strategy, streamlining how you manage your leads, and optimize your reviews so you’re better able to stand out from the crowd. So what does this mean for your home service business? In short, low pricing is no longer enough. Greg Villafana and Tyler Rasmussen, owners of Brothers Pool Service and creators of the Pool Chasers podcast, know the market extremely well and have an idea about why this is the case. They argue that customer demographics are shifting and that people have a Google/Amazon mindset. This translates into customers who default to what Google suggests or whatever comes cheap and fast via Amazon. For service providers who offer quality services--even those with a solid existing book of business--this can be devastating. The move here is for companies to use these growing platforms as tools to market their quality services rather than seeing them as obstacles standing between them and existing (or potential) customers. In short, adapt or watch your customers go elsewhere. 5. Online, on-demand home service market + bundling As Matthew Kanas at Intuit Canada noted, “If Amazon can deliver a package within 24 hours or the same day, why can’t home service businesses deliver on the same time frame? This is the mindset the home service industry will need to take. In other words, get ready for the home services market to become completely “Uberized.” Consumers not only want services on-demand, they seek simplified ways to book related services. For example, when you book a flight through United and you’re checking out your reservation, the airline offers an option to also book a car to airport via Uber. This is called “bundling” and consumers love it. The tip here for providers is to find ways to bundle your services in with relevant, related services customers are already purchasing as a way to drive business your way. Time is of the essence for consumers more and more, so help them save those precious hours by putting your business in front of them before they know they need it. 6. Technology is changing the home service industry, rapidly Think about how consumers now deal with their unwanted household items. They take a picture of it using an app like OfferUp or Letgo and list it for other consumers to purchase. These apps use artificial intelligence to identify the item and show a potential price for the goods pictured. A customer can just click “Accept,” whereas before they had to type everything out themselves. Now think about how that impacts the home service industry. Customers will soon be able to use voice recognition technology to request a home service provider for a specific problem and get an instant quote. They will soon be empowered to take a picture of a household fix they need and get a quick estimate from a local provider scrolling through customer requests on her phone. New visualization technologies now allow consumers to measure every detail with one click. Adaptation of applications through the explosion of smartphones and mobile broadband has created emergent, consumer-facing sites and mobile apps. Customers seeking home services are now more likely to trust these apps and use them to secure the home services they seek than ever before. Home service providers who embrace the opportunities technology is bringing into the market will produce faster and more accurate quotes for customers, stronger leads for their businesses, and ultimately a bigger bottom line for their companies. 7. Luxuries become necessities Two important generational phenomenon are happening here. First, millennials increasingly run their homes like a business, thinking of time as a more precious commodity. Second, the on-demand economy has created a new class of workers that function between working for a specific company (often remotely) and self-employed individuals and freelancers. Taken together, this creates greater demand for speed and convenience when it comes to home services as these new roles themselves were created out of previously-existing inefficiencies. This new class of workers has increased spending capacity in many cases and they’re prepared to spend it on home services that were previously seen as luxuries. Their time is simply more valuable and they want the home services to meet this new demand. It should also be noted that this trend makes pricing much more volatile in the home services market. Pricing continues to a be a central challenge facing home service providers. With no standardized approach and the industry as nascent as it is, this can add instability to the prices consumers face and home service providers must compete with. There seems to be a growing trend of discounts and companies are geared towards consumer acquisition and retention through pricing methods. The generational shift in how consumers think about home services and the ensuing changes to how those services are priced represents a wave that providers will have to catch if they want to succeed in a changing market. Framing their services as home necessities with flexible and attractive pricing options for consumers will be the key to surviving and thriving amidst these shifts. 8. Client communication channels are evolving The frequency and ways in which home service businesses stay in touch with their clients is changing--fast. Recent studies show that 56% of people would rather message a business (on a social media platform or website) than call them for customer service. At the same time, many home service businesses are not equipped to receive messages across multiple platforms such as SMS or Facebook Messenger. If one out of every two customers wants to reach out to you in this way and you’re not set up for it, you’re missing a huge segment of your potential customer base. Home service businesses across the board are developing and deploying great content to build their audiences--even through video on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. With consumers searching for everything online these days, having professional-looking, ready-made content showcasing your skills as a home service professional will be the first point of contact for many new customers. Think about it: A helpful tutorial video that helps a customer diagnose a problem they’re having might make them more likely to purchase your services for that problem or another issues they’re facing down the line. Home service providers who want to win in their markets today and in the future must recognize: customers will find and judge your business on your appearance on these platforms regardless of the quality of your work. It’s a new reality to cope with, but also an opportunity to showcase your skills and the quality of your work.

Emily Bauer

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HVAC Invoicing: 11 Mistakes to Avoid

December 18, 2018 • Running every aspect of your HVAC business is a tall order. The busier you get with new clients and jobs, the less time you have to focus on paperwork. So, it’s not surprising that some of the administrative stuff like invoicing might fall through the cracks. Fortunately, HVAC invoicing doesn’t have to be complicated. We put together this list of common mistakes to avoid – so you can get paid faster, cut back on paperwork, and make invoicing a breeze. What NOT to Do: 11 HVAC Invoicing Mistakes to Avoid Mistake #1: Not Generating an Invoice On-Site Are you slowing down the payment process by mailing your customers paper invoices?  One of the biggest invoicing mistakes HVAC professionals make is not giving customers an invoice before they leave the job site. If you can generate an invoice right then and there, there’s no need mail one out after the fact. This saves you money on stamps, envelopes, and ink – and helps you bill more accurately since there’s more room for clerical error once you leave the job site. Plus, showing the customer your invoice before you leave their property ensures that there are no surprises in store for either party. The customer can confirm that they understand the charges and you can clarify when payment is due and how they can pay. Furthermore, it allows you to get paid on-site through your home services app – that is, as long as you’re not making this next mistake. Mistake #2: Turning Down Credit Cards The number one rule of HVAC invoicing? Don’t make it hard for people to pay you. Unfortunately, some HVAC professionals break this rule by not accepting credit cards. The thing is, there’s really no good reason to turn down credit card payments these days. By refusing to take credit card payments, you’re creating an unnecessary roadblock between you and your payday. Especially because, with a smartphone in your pocket, you can easily collect payments on-site. Your home service business software can turn your phone into a card reader on-demand. The HouseCall Pro app helps you get paid on-site by scanning a customer’s card on the spot. No more chasing down payments after the fact, pestering customers with follow-up emails, or driving around picking up checks. This frees you up to spend more time working on other billable jobs or, better yet, generating new opportunities for your business. Mistake #3: Not Being Prepared for Cash Payments Even though we just talked about how amazingly convenient online payments are for you and your customers, why limit yourself to one payment method? While many of your customers will love that you accept credit cards, some might insist on paying cash. HVAC professionals serve a wide range of demographics – which means you should still be willing to accept cash from any customers who prefer it. So, for the convenience of everyone involved, make sure your technicians always have enough change on them to break a bill. Mistake #4: A Poorly Organized Filing System This goes for both paper and digital invoices. If you don’t properly label and organize your invoices, you’ll have a hard time keeping track of all your sales, payments, and customer information. Ideally, you should use software that organizes customer data all in one place, including invoices and payments. This gets even more important as your business grows because not only do you have more jobs and invoices to keep track of, but you’ll also have more employees creating, sending, and following up on invoices. Mistake #5: Storing Outdated Customer Data You should save customer details in your home services or billing software so it’s easy to generate a new invoice. When you land a new customer, collect and verify their contact information before putting together their first invoice. This should include the customer’s full name, home address, phone number, and email address (so you can send them a copy of their receipt). For repeat customers, you should ensure their data is up-to-date when they call to book their next appointment. To streamline your billing practices even further, securely store your customers’ payment information on your home services app. This way, you can process the payment as soon as they review the invoice. Because hey, if you have an opportunity to make billing easier for your customers and get paid faster, why not take it? Mistake #6: Incomplete Maintenance Records Your invoicing process should involve taking notes about the work that was done, including when the job was completed, how long it took, what parts were used, and any relevant details. If your maintenance records are missing data, you risk running into trouble down the road. These records allow you to include a list of goods and services rendered on your invoice. Otherwise, the customer may be confused about where certain costs are coming from. For instance, if something unusual comes up during a routine installation, you want to have a record of it in case the customer questions the extra charges. Mistake #7: Not Including a Detailed Cost Breakdown On top of getting you paid, an invoice ensures the customer understands exactly what they’re paying for. That’s why it’s helpful to include a detailed breakdown of individual costs as well as the subtotal and the total after tax (if applicable). For instance, say you offer 10% off for first-time customers. That 10% discount needs to be represented as a line item on your invoice. Otherwise, the customer might not realize a discount was applied and expect the same lower rate on future work. Mistake #8: Inconsistent Documentation If your team is any bigger than just you, then you need to lay down some guidelines for documentation. Make sure your techs understand what needs to be included on their invoices, how much detail you require for each line item, and how specific types of work need to be recorded. If you include any acronyms or short forms on your invoices, you should aim to use them consistently. Every invoice should follow the same template and guidelines, regardless of which technician completed the job. Mistake #9: Missing Any of These Crucial HVAC Invoice Elements It’s important that you’re able to keep track of your invoices – and these key details will help you do so. Here are four main elements every invoice needs to have: A clear header: Include a header with the word ‘Invoice’ displayed prominently. This might sound obvious, but it’s important to ensure your customers can instantly tell exactly what they’re looking at. Contact information: Include your business name and contact information on every invoice, as well as the customer’s name and contact details. Date issued: This is valuable for record keeping and accounting purposes as well as making sure you get paid on time. Invoice number: Every invoice should have a unique number or billing code. Mistake #10: Skipping Over the Legal Stuff An invoice is a record of services provided, but it can also act as an agreement between your business and the customer. For instance, if you have specific payments terms you want customers to agree, it’s important to outline those on the invoice itself. This might include how long they have to pay the bill and accepted payment methods, along with any other preferences you might have. In this case, you should also include a spot for the customer’s signature. Mistake #11: Not Offering a Service Contract to Secure Future Work With the right approach, an invoice can do more than get you paid for the current job – it can help you secure future cash flow, too. By allowing customers to opt into a service agreement right on the invoice, you can increase your revenue with repeat business. Consider offering a service contract as an optional add-on and make it possible to add that cost directly to the invoice. If you want to learn more about the value of service contracts, keep an eye out for our upcoming article on this very topic!

Emily Bauer

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8 Thumbtack Competitors to Help You Pick Up More Work in Your Field

October 5, 2018 • Running your own small business isn’t easy – especially because finding new clients can feel like a job of its own. Whether you’re seeking out new long-term customers or are trying to replace a last-minute cancellation, you need to know where to look for leads. And even then, turning leads into customers often requires a great deal of time, money, and patience. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites and platforms built specifically to help you find leads as quickly and easily as possible. One such platform is Thumbtack, an online marketplace that connects local businesses with customers looking for their services. How Does Thumbtack Work? Potential customers describe the type of service they need and set parameters for how far the company can be from their home. This ensures they connect with the most relevant local businesses. Thumbtack then emails information about the lead to service providers who offer that service within the selected area. When you receive an email like this, you have access to the details you need to decide whether you or not want to apply for the job. Service providers pay a fee (which varies by industry and goes up to $15) to send the potential customer response with their contact information. Basically, Thumbtack just makes it easy for anyone to find the best local talent for a given job – which, in turn, makes it easier to for you to find and connect with hot leads. Tips for Getting the Most Out of Thumbtack We’ll talk about some of your other options in a moment, but since Thumbtack is one of the most popular platforms, here are a few tips for making it work for your business: Get noticed by replying to clients ASAP: When it comes to standing out on websites like Thumbtack, timing is everything. If you take too long to respond, it won’t matter if you’re the best person for the job – because someone else will have beat you to the punch. So, make sure you receive emails from Thumbtack on your phone and reply to promising leads as quickly as possible. Save time pre-written messages: When you’re already multitasking all day long, responding to every incoming Thumbtack request can seem like an extra burden. Fortunately, you can write and save prepared replies, so you have always a response ready to go. Craft a friendly, professional message that you can send out when you get a notification from a potential customer. Track your success: Keep track of how many leads you earn through Thumbtack and the amount of revenue they’ve provided to your business. This allows you to ensure that your investment is worth it. If you’re not seeing a healthy return from the time and fees you’re spending on the site, you may need to revamp your profile and rethink your strategy for messaging potential customers. Though it’s one of the most popular platforms in the gig-economy, Thumbtack isn’t the only place you can look for leads online. There are quite a few other options you can try – and why wouldn’t you? Searching for leads in multiple places will increase your potential for scoring new customers. So, let’s take a look at some of the best alternatives to Thumbtack. 8 Thumbtack Competitors to Help You Grow Your Business 1. Gentask Gentask is an on-demand service marketplace that works very similarly to Thumbtack. Customers log into the mobile app or website and explain what type of service they’re looking for. Then professionals can submit quotes and the customer chooses which professional they’d like to hire. As an FSB owner, you can register and specify the types of services you provide. Then, when a customer posts that they’re looking for a business like yours, you have an opportunity to respond to their request and potentially get hired. 2. Shiftgig Shiftgig is a mobile marketplace that allows you to connect with individuals and businesses looking to hire specialists for all sorts of odd jobs. Once you’re registered as a Shiftgig Specialist, you can use the mobile app to apply for short-term jobs that make use of your skillset. Since you get to choose where, when, and how often you work, it’s perfect if you or your team has extra availability for a limited time and needs to pick up a few quick jobs – without the hassle of seeking out leads on your own. 3.  Bloomchase This is another site designed to help professionals like you find and connect with local customers. It’s a great option for service providers across a large range of industries, including everything from home improvement specialists to pet care to life coaches. Once you’re verified as a trusted professional, Bloomchase matches your skillset to a customer’s specific needs. Potential customers can search Bloomchase for the type of service they need, view your profile, read reviews, and ask for a quote before booking you. 4.  BidWilly BidWilly is a task management website focused on homecare services like maintenance, repairs, cleaning, and lawn care. Its purpose is to make it easy for homeowners to easily find high-quality professionals who fit their budget. So, whether you’re an independent contractor or small business owner, you can create a profile to tell homeowners about the services you provide. Since customer ratings influence your success on BidWilly, make sure you ask satisfied customers to leave a favorable review once a job is complete.   5.  NeedTo.com This site makes it simple for businesses and people to find help for just about anything they need to get done – from landscaping and home maintenance to furniture assembly and other odd jobs. While some of the listings are for casual, short-term requests, you can also find opportunities with the potential to become long-term customers. Simply browse through customer requests to see if anything matches your skillset. 6.  TaskRabbit Though it’s not tailored specifically to FSBs, potential customers use this task management app to hire skilled Taskers for a variety of jobs. Popular task categories include handyman, cleaning, and moving. When you join TaskRabbit, you’ll be notified of nearby jobs that match your service offerings. You can choose which ones you’d like to accept, confirm details with the customer directly, and submit an invoice through the app. 7.  Wonolo Like many of the resources listed here, you can use Wonolo to search for hourly or daily jobs that fit into your schedule. However, the thing that makes Wonolo stand out is the fact that it caters to businesses and brands, rather than individual homeowners. Businesses use the site to hire talent on-demand for a number of different industries, which makes it an awesome resource if you’re looking to work with bigger companies. 8.  Staffy Staffy is an app that can help you find new clients and jobs that fit into your existing work schedule. It connects with hospitality businesses that need skilled contractors for a range of different jobs, both long-term and short-term. Since Staffy promises to provide on-demand staff within 90 minutes, it’s a good option whenever you’re looking for work on short notice – or simply looking to connect with customers who are looking for your exact skill set and availability.

EJ Brown

Here’s How to Find the Perfect HVAC Software to Grow Your Business

September 30, 2018 • Heating and air conditioning businesses have a lot of moving parts--both in the office and in the field. HVAC software automates your workflow so that you spend less time on tedious, time-intensive tasks and can focus on the big picture. With so many cost-effective solutions on the market for businesses of all sizes, adoption of these tools has soared. HVAC companies are using software to manage and streamline their business, from estimates to invoices and everything in between. Operations that aren’tusing management software to optimize their businesses are at a serious competitive disadvantage to those that are. In this guide, we’ll walk through what you should look for when it comes to choosing the right HVAC software and how to evaluate a tool to see if it’s right for you. Download Field Guide: How to Hire & Grow HVAC Your HVAC Business Without the Headache Types of HVAC software When it comes to choosing the right tool, you should first consider what type of software you need for your business. There are few solutions specifically designed for the heating and air conditioning industry. Most field service software is designed to work with any trade or service business (plumbing, HVAC, lawn care, etc.) But that doesn’t mean every option is the same. There are two primary divisions of software designed for small to medium-sized field service companies: Software tailored for a specific function All-in-one solutions that benefit a company in many areas of business Let’s start by comparing these two options to see which one may be what you’re looking for. Software tailored to a specific function You’ll find lots of software on the market specifically designed to accomplish or simplify one part of your business. If you’re looking for a way to make one small part of your business better or if you have other solutions and you’re just looking for a piecemeal option, these can be good options. For instance, some software is designed specifically to do something like creating and submitting job bids. Other software is specialized for invoicing, scheduling, or online booking. Each of these features is helpful on their own. It may be the case that you only need a specialized piece of software to handle, for example, invoicing. But, chances are that you will eventually want or need to add on additional tools that help with other areas of operation. If you’re looking to sync all of your workflow and business processes together, you can look for an all-in-one solution that will help you do all (or most) of the day-to-day activities it takes to run your business. All-in-one solutions Full-service management solutions cover your entire workflow from service or estimate request to scheduling, dispatching, and even collecting payments. For most HVAC business owners, this is the ideal solution. Not only does having an all-in-one HVAC software give you all of the tools that you need to run the business effectively, but you also won’t have to worry about cobbling together different tools or paying for a bunch of different software. Another major advantage of an all-in-one solution is that it can grow with your business. Even if you only need one or two core features to start, you should be able to begin using additional features (like dispatching or location tracking) as your business grows. This also means that you won’t need to spend time looking for a new piece of software every time your business expands. Evaluating HVAC software Once you’ve decided which type of software you’re looking for, you still have some decisions to make. Depending on what you’re looking for, there are likely several options on the market and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. So it’s important to give some careful consideration to each one and then choose the software that’s best-suited for your business. When evaluating different software, keep in mind how it might fit within your own company’s existing workflow. The best solution you won’t force you to dramatically change your process--it will work the way that your team already works. Here are some other things to consider when you’re comparing HVAC solutions. Feature list Ease of use Software/solution integration Pricing Features and functionality As mentioned above, there are usually two classes of HVAC software that you might consider. And these two classes likely have differing features. A specific or targeted software (like bidding or scheduling) will likely have narrow but deep functionality. If you’re thinking about an all-in-one solution, then you should evaluate whether the tool has the broad set of features that you want to run all of the important parts of your business. For the sake of comparison, let’s assume that you’re looking for an all-in-one solution. In order to find the right tool, you’ll want to do a side-by-side evaluation of each option. Features that you’ll likely want include: Quotes, estimates, and invoices Scheduling and dispatch Field communications and location tracking Online booking and chat Payment processing Accounting integration When you’re evaluating a software solution, take careful note of which features are included--and which ones are left out. Some important questions to ask before springing for a particular solution: What processes are covered with this software? What processes are not covered? Do other software solutions handle processes not covered by this solution? Will you need a separate tool to handle that part of the process? Does this software easily integrate with other tools you would need? Is there any particular functionality that is critical to our operation? Software Integrations Next up, you’ll want to consider what other tools you are currently using or plan to use and how well this solution integrates with other software. For instance, are you using Quickbooks? Does this HVAC software allow you to easily track invoices and expenses? If the software doesn’t integrate with other tools, it may actually end up creating more work. Or, worse, you’ll have to hire someone to build a custom tool to connect one piece of software to the other piece of software. Questions to ask: What software are you currently using that you will continue to use? What software or tools may you use in the future? Based on the features of this software solution, will you need additional tools to manage part of your operation? If these integrations aren’t available, how difficult would it be to create or build a solution? Ease of use Second to features and integrations is the importance of workflow--ease of use. In the ideal world, your HVAC software should work the way that your team works. You shouldn’t need to change your operations or processes in order to accommodate the tools. Another important aspect is the experience that your customers receive. The right software can help you provide better service, make booking easier, and allow for quick and pain-free payment processing. How to evaluate HVAC software on ease of use: Does this software offer the kind of communication that the team currently uses to stay in sync? Will the software make it easier or more difficult for your team to send and share important details? Using the software, will you to add new steps to your existing processes? Is the software mobile friendly and/or can it be easily used by techs in the field? Will the features included in the software help you also provide a better customer experience? Software pricing Last, but certainly not least, you should consider the price of the software. As with most purchasing decisions, a lower price may not always be better. And some options may have additional costs that go above and beyond the sticker price shown on the website. There are two things to watch out for. One is any additional costs that may come on top of the software or subscription itself--setup fees, consulting, training, etc. Second, you’ll want to consider how much the software may cost as your business grows. Some solutions may have a dramatic increase in cost once you reach, say, 20 total employees. Be sure to evaluate the price in comparison to other factors that go into your decision. You may find that it’s better to pay a bit more for software that includes more features or will save you money in other ways. Here are the questions you’ll want to ask: How much will this software actually cost over the course of a year? Are there any additional costs beyond just the price or monthly subscription fee (e.g., setup fees)? Will the costs grow as the company grows? If so, are those costs reasonable and sustainable for the business? How does the cost of the software compare with the time/cost savings associated with using it? Making your final decision With these important questions in mind, it’s time to choose the best solution for your company. Keep in mind that it probably won’t be one single consideration that helps you make your final decision. You’ll want to evaluate each option on all of the factors that matter to your company and make an informed purchasing decision for both your immediate needs and the future growth of your operation. Why our customers choose Housecall Pro With the highest user-friendly rating and the most reviews in Capterra, HouseCall Pro is known as being the most intuitive field service management platform. It offers many of the standard features, such as scheduling, dispatch and routing, automated estimates, and invoicing. It also has a unique customer service focus with features like a client portal offering online booking. Technicians can invoice on-site with credit card processing through Stripe. Integrations with Facebook and Yelp allow customers to book your services wherever they find you. Housecall Pro offers an all-in-one solution that can help your company get to the next level. Whether you’re an owner-operator looking to make your first hire, or you’re looking to streamline your operation to expand into new markets, Housecall Pro can help you get there. Book a free demo to learn more about Housecall Pro .

EJ Brown

8 Money Management Hacks

August 20, 2018 • We all use different tricks to keep track of our money. In our personal lives, it’s a necessity; after all, you can’t spend money on airfare to Hawaii if you need it to pay the rent. Well, the same thing applies to those of us who run businesses. As much as we’d like to cash a customer’s check and blow it on some new equipment or a nice vacation, we have to pay our employees, take care of the bills, and ensure financial stability if we want to stay in business. Here’s just a sample of what you likely have to deal with financially just to maintain a state of normalcy, month-to-month: Employee salaries Employee benefits Rent on facilities Monthly payments for vehicles Vehicle fuel Vehicle maintenance Supplies Marketing Cell phone Bank fees Insurance Taxes That’s a pretty long list, but it’s really only a sample. Consider what happens when you have exceptionally big jobs or have to hire new employees. The additional paperwork, bills, and outgoing finances could add substantially to this list. The key to successfully managing your money is to be organized. OK, that’s easier for some of us than others. But here are some things you can begin to do right now to make the job of financial management easier for you while helping you prepare your company for long-term success: Separate business and personal expenses First off, you need separate bank, checking, and credit card accounts for your personal and business expenses. Believe me, if you don’t, your life could get very complicated. For one thing, you need to be careful about what you’re paying for. If you blend your finances and pour it all into your business, you might end up with nothing left to keep your house and family expenses. And if you spend on personal expenses from your business account, you could find yourself unable to compensate employees on payday. Pay your bills on time. And every time. When you pay your bills on time, you benefit in two key ways: 1) your credit score is improved, and you may need credit, later on, to make purchases and grow the business; and 2) the vendors you work with seeing you as reliable and low-risk. Someday, if you need a break from them or want to negotiate a deal, you will have already established yourself as a trustworthy partner. Some key ways to ensure you don’t miss bills include: Schedule reminders for yourself to pay the bills once/week or twice/month. Whatever works for you is fine, but just ensure they are paid on time. Auto-pay is a great way to address bills that are regular (monthly, bi-monthly) and usually in the same amount. Have a reliable “to do” box. Some of us need physical reminders, so get a good spot on your desk, put the bills in there, along with a reminder to “pay by Tuesday." Set savings goals You’re running a business to make money and create a strong financial foundation for yourself. To do that requires you to set aside money for the future, and that means you have to save some of what you earn. You may have heard the term, “Pay yourself first.” Well, it’s totally applicable here. Determine a reasonable amount you expect to have after paying your bills, your salary, and a cushion against unplanned expenses. Take that and put it into a savings or low-risk investment account like a bond or index fund. Maybe sure you do it every month; it may even be helpful to calendar that as a monthly action item. Get the right insurance Insurance is a necessary expense, but having the right kind of insurance could prevent financial catastrophe in the future. You should consult a trusted insurance or financial advisor, but the key types of insurance include: Auto insurance on all your vehicles. General liability insurance to protect against damages you or your employees might allegedly cause to a third-party. Worker’s compensation insurance for employees who get injured. Errors and omissions insurance in case a customer sues you for failing to comply with a contract. Property insurance if you own or rent your own facility. These are just some of the types of insurance available to you. And don’t worry, while this may seem like a lot of different pieces, most businesses can bundle many of these for very low monthly premiums. Watch your expenses You will need to pay for supplies and other things that enable you to deliver excellent service, but be smart about how you spend. Get to know your suppliers so you can negotiate bulk deals or lower rates for being a frequent buyer. Make sure you don’t fall in love with the latest gadgets just because they look cool; that’s a sure-fire way to burn an unnecessary hole in your pocket. Also, if you perform maintenance on the things you have, you’ll ensure longevity and cut costs in the long run. Watch employee’s expenses You likely need employees to make purchases on their own to fulfill jobs. That’s all totally fine, but you have to make sure you have an accounting of those expenses. Rather than rely on employees to hand deliver receipts, give them expense cards that have a cap on the amount they can spend. That will help you maintain accurate, real-time records of what’s been purchased, and will enable you to have authorization power for big-time expenses. Get paid You’re running a business and you should be paid for the work you do. Granted, some customers don’t or can’t pay for jobs immediately upon completion, but you need to have contractual requirements (net-30, net-60) and then track them. If a customer hasn’t paid in time, you need to call them up with a reminder. Be diplomatic and kind, but don’t let customers go too long without paying you. Set reminders in your calendar and make sure you’re getting paid what you are owed. Use the right tools You can’t keep track of bills and invoices with Post-It notes. Do yourself a huge favor and invest in tools that automate much of this kind of work. Expensify gives you an easy-to-use tool to pay bills, while Housecall Pro can help you send and track invoices all from a single interface. It’s not easy to maintain your accounts when you have so many moving parts. Even for a small, simple business, you’re looking at accounts payable and receivable as a continuous, multipart thing you need to manage. Whether or not business finances are something you enjoy or are good at, they are a “have to”.

Pat Flanders, Guest Author

jars leaves plant growing save money plant

Why People Buy Stuff

March 13, 2018 • When it comes to acquiring more business there are a number of theories on the best way to go about doing so. Where should you be marketing, and how? Should you focus on gaining new customers or retaining your current customers? How much should you be spending? All of these questions are important to determining the best process to grow your business. However, the first step to answering all of them is understanding how your customers think. Once you can understand what drives the buyer's decision-making process you’ll be able to reach them easier and know how to approach your potential customers in a way that both provides a valuable service while beginning a rewarding, long-term relationship. The professionals who often land jobs more frequently follow Dr. Robert Cialdini's "Six Principles of Persuasion" to entice and engage with both new and returning customers. Following these principles can help anyone to secure a loyal customer base while growing their business at the same time. 6 principles to follow These principles can be viewed through two lenses, one that examines why the customer decides to buy, and one that examines how the customer looks at their potential service professional. To attract a potential new client, every business must understand what motivates that person to engage with them in the first place. Reciprocity Offering a gift or token as the relationship gets started often triggers a reciprocal action from the potential customer. Costco excels at this by providing free food samples throughout their warehouses. For most, when someone offers something for free, the customer feels an obligation to return the favor and buy something. For a service-based business, you might offer a T-shirt or mouse pad when a new client books their first service. By offering them a small token like this you’re building a loyalty with them, staying top-of-mind to keep them coming back. Likeability  Cialdini's theory suggests that people engage better with someone when they already know they like them. This tends to be those that are similar to them in some way, those who happily cooperate with them, and those who are complimentary of them. Sharing a relatable story can help open new opportunities. You’ll be able to encourage potential clients to engage on social media with your followers, adding them to an established community of people with similar tastes and preferences. Amazon exemplifies this principle with their upsell strategy. When a customer clicks on an item that they’re interested, Amazon recommends additional items that were bought by "customers who bought this item." This recommendation further encourages the potential customer to purchase additional products based solely on the similar buying habits of a stranger. As a home service business, some ways to make your customers like you are through personal stories, testimonials from your customers, and sharing photos of work you’ve done. Your potential customers will likely relate to your personal story, the customers that you’ve had before, or feel that their home is similar to the homes you’ve worked on. Social Proof Similar to the principle of likeability, social proof creates a connection based on the opinions of others. Social media offers the opportunity to show that potential customers that others already like your service. Whenever a new customer books a job with you, they’re taking a risk. By presenting them with some social proof you’re taking some of that risk away, making them feel more confident that you’ll do a good job. Customer testimonials can bolster a company's likability and credibility - if other customers like this company, your potential customer will probably like them, too. In order to exhibit more social proof you should encourage your customers to give testimonials, write reviews, and share your social content. Commitment and Consistency For many people, veering from an already established course can indicate failure or dissatisfaction. Consequently, many people work even harder to maintain their original choice and affirm their commitment by talking about it openly.   In order to make the sale using the principle of commitment and consistency, you have to lock in a commitment with your customer. A good way to ensure this commitment is by having them book you online or by sending confirmations texts. Scarcity One factor that wields enormous influence on people is the notion of scarcity. A limited supply of anything frequently spurs an increased demand for it. This principle holds true for service providers, too. When you offer a special service or a discount that’s only available during a certain time, your customers feel pressured to take the offer for fear of missing the opportunity. Businesses that offer special deals for limited periods of time are encouraging both old and new clients to sign up fast. Authority The principle of authority says that consumers are more driven to make a purchase if someone of higher authority recommends it. This could be a doctor, a professor, or even just a specialist.  Research shows that potential customers respond best to businesses that clearly demonstrate their authority in their field. Certificates and diplomas declare authority, as do newspaper write-ups and magazine articles. These days, a high ranking on Google's search pages is also an indicator of authority. Remarkably, what people see can be as persuasive as what they hear. Hanging achievement documents within view of the customer waiting spaces display that credibility and ensure comprehension of industry expertise. The potential client receives substantial information before any conversation starts. Understanding why people make purchase decisions gives business owners the information they need to focus on those triggers. When potential customers feel respected and appreciated, they often respond by hiring the contractors they've come to trust. The resulting relationship can result in years of steady and profitable work for any home services contractor.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

Illuminated brain in girls head

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

7 Ways To Guarantee Customer Loyalty

February 7, 2018 • It takes a ton of effort to get customers, but small business owners know that the secret to building a business is keeping the customers you have. Consider that, on average, loyal customers are worth as much as 10x as much as their initial purchase or service fee, and it can cost 5x more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep one you already have. Being dependable, competitive with pricing, and delivering great customer service is no longer enough to create a sense of loyalty among your existing customers. Today's consumer is constantly weighing their different options and expecting vendors to cater to their unique needs. Businesses can use a variety of methods to maintain relationships with customers and continuously demonstrate their value. With the right mix of social media, marketing activities, and good old customer service, you can stand out from your competitors in the eyes of your customers and be their go-to vendor. With the following tactics, you can position your company to develop deep customer retention and ongoing loyalty: 1. Have a mission and deliver on it Whether you like it or not, your business is not about you. Your business exists only because of your customers, so you have to communicate to them that you are focused on their needs and on the things that make them satisfied. This should be a major part of your efforts to brand your business, and almost half of small businesses believe that building brand awareness is a top marketing priority. That also means it's getting more competitive to stand out from the crowd. To do it, however, you must establish a customer-focused vision for your business that emphasizes your commitment to trust and excellence o. Think about what customers like about you and your business and then translate that into a vision for what your business is all about. For example, customers probably love it when you make it a point to be on time and do follow up calls after a service visit. Not every provider does that, so that helps you stand out. But why they like that is what's especially important. When you're reliable, that means they can arrange their schedule around a visit and rest assured they'll still be able to pick their kids up from school on time. It means that they can get their own business back to normal quickly because you can fix issues that prevent them from working normally. Make sure you communicate not just the part about being on time, but explain that make it’s a core part of your mission to be on time specifically because you value their time, or that you understand that their problems are costing them money. 2. Use "leave-behinds" to stay top-of-mind Not everything is online these days. Customers still keep files, and they like the convenience of referencing paper-based content. Because of this, and because it helps you effectively communicate your brand, you need to create marketing collateral that you can leave with customers. It is an effective way to keep your company name front-and-center in their brains, and it acts as a reminder for the next time they need your services. One of the most important things about paper marketing collateral is that it stands alone. A customer isn't comparing multiple vendors when they pick up your brochure. Rather, they're seeing all your company's attributes, special offer opportunities, and other information, all in a very visual, compelling way. Marketing collateral can come in a variety of formats, but it should all look professional and accurately represent your brand.l. Content should be informative and needs to deliver direct information about your services, pricing, and what makes you stand out from the competition (this is where you can thread that customer-centric mission throughout the collateral). The look and design should be visually compelling, but it should also provide offers for customers to engage with you in the future through special offers and discounts. When a customer sees that they can save money on their next visit, you're already half way to booking them again. 3. Use marketing tools to say "thank you" While you are an expert in your particular field of service, the root of any business is all about how you interact with people. And people want to feel like they are appreciated, and saying "thank you" is one of the most effective ways of doing that. Most of your competitors will think in terms of needs; they need you, and you need their business. While that's true, that mindset is very much about a single interaction - engage, solve, leave. Yet, when you demonstrate appreciation for the business your customer gives you, it makes them feel valued, and establishes the sense that you want to maintain a relationship with them. It's also just plain, old-fashioned good manners, and that's appealing to everyone. Whether it's with an email, a text, or if you take the time to compose a quick handwritten note, a sincere note of thanks from you will help you stand out from other vendors who appear to take customers for granted. 4. Referrals and reviews do the work for you In a survey of 7,500 North American business owners, 85% said that word of mouth referrals are the single most effective way to acquire customers. In today's market where consumers have more choices than ever before, they increasingly rely on proof points and validation from people like them. Especially with the popularity of online review sites like Yelp, Facebook, Angie's List and others, customers have many outlets to voice their opinions, good or bad; it's the new word of mouth. Happy customers are usually happy to refer you. The problem is that they may not always be aware of the outlets for doing so, and they may not always think to initiate it on their own, so it's up to you to direct them. As mentioned above, collateral can be an important tool for this. Every time you finish a job, present your customer with instructions for how to provide a review on one of these sites. A visual step-by-step diagram will make it easy for anyone to log on and leave a positive review for you. You may also want to offer an incentive; perhaps a discount on future services or the opportunity to be included in a raffle for customers who submit a review of your company and its services. Besides creating more validation for your business and greater word of mouth opportunities, these types of reviews and referrals also create a tighter bond between you and the customer who is providing the referral. When a customer speaks highly of you, it creates another form of positive validation and a reminder that you are their go-to vendor for future service. 5. Use social media and content to stay connected Do you ever call your customers just to check up on them? Sounds like a nice thing to do, but it would suck so much time that you wouldn't be able to handle the workload in front of you. Social media, however, is an effective and inexpensive way to stay connected with customers and increase awareness of your services. Facebook, for example, now influences more than half of the buying decisions for customers' good and services needs, and AdWeek says that it could be detrimental to avoid social media in your business. The first thing you need to do is create the basic social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook company pages, and Instagram all allow you to communicate messages to users and use visuals effectively. In your marketing collateral, encourage customers to follow your accounts, and you should follow them in return. Look for local accounts and engage with them as well. Social media is a great way to deliver personalized messages directly to the accounts of your followers and others who might benefit from knowing about your services. Social media also provides a great channel for delivering content to stay engaged with your existing customers. Perhaps you want to send them winter maintenance tips. Doing so through the U.S. Mail is costly and email can be time intensive. But you can direct this content (whether it's a downloadable piece or just text in a message) to your users and customers so they benefit from the information and stay tightly connected to you. 6. Create an enemy OK, take this with a grain of salt, but everyone loves to hate the bad guy. Most experts say that tension makes people pay attention, and in a business context, an enemy helps create this awareness. They also want to quickly avoid the pain that comes from knowing the bad guy could strike at any time. This isn't about actually finding a person or industry to target, however. This is about the culprit that gives you business in the first place. For a carpet cleaning company, kids' shoes are evil. They track water and dirt all over the house...let's go to war over kids' shoes! Or an HVAC company can align themselves with hot, uncomfortable customers to combat a heat wave with air conditioning...and possibly the opportunity to more effectively keep ice cubes cold in your margarita! Customers like quirky and fun campaigns like this because they are original and entertaining. It also gives you the ability to stay highly connected and stand out from competitors who stick to standard, basic messages. While you aren't actually trying to instigate anger in people, having a common enemy (no matter how funny it is) is compelling and increases a customer's appreciation for you as a vendor. 7. Make your employees your best ambassadors Don't forget that one of your greatest assets may be your employees. They represent your business and everything they do can either help or hurt your business' chance of retaining customers, so it's critical that you invest time to train them in customer service that stands out. A Gallup poll indicates that almost half of employees are unaware of their own company's branding, which prevents them from being a great ambassador for you. To make sure they are consistent with what you think is important, walk your employees through the entire process of engaging with a customer. It starts with marketing collateral, your website, social media - anything that a customer might see before they decide to work with you. That material should reflect the type of business you want to and it should look professional, be clear, and demonstrate a level of trustworthiness. Then, an employee needs to keep in mind all the little things that go into making a lasting impression: great the customer with a handshake, introduce yourself, be communicative, and do an outstanding job. Courtesy and willingness to go the extra mile will make your business stick in the minds of your customers possibly more than anything else. If you can put together these seven pieces of advice into your ongoing, regular business practices, you are going to find that customers seek you out. Their loyalty will translate into long term loyalty and ongoing support which will save you money and ensure repeat business in the long run.

Pat Flanders, Guest Author

Happy home owner in kitchen

15 Surefire Ways to Gain More Business

January 18, 2018 • There was once a time where posting flyers and having an ad in a local newspaper was enough to promote your business. Today, however, customers are being marketed to in so many different ways. Whether it’s social media, SEO, video, or through the press, you need to try out new, creative ways to show customers who you are. It can be a daunting task to know where to start, so we put together the following 15 ways to promote your service. 1) Education and fun facts Your customers are interested in what goes into the job they’re paying for. The more they know about what you do, the more they’ll understand the process and trust you. You’ll want to make sure to keep it informative, but also fun to make sure they actually read and understand it. 2) Email marketing There are a couple of strategies for you to utilize in your email marketing. Automatic reminder and follow up emails - Just like you, your customers all have super busy schedules. By sending reminder and follow up emails you’ll stay top of mind for your customer and prevent last-minute cancellations caused by forgotten appointments. You won’t just stay relevant to your customer, they’ll also appreciate the reminder for their appointment. Drip Campaigns -  A drip campaign is a marketing method that involves sending marketing material to your leads, repeatedly over long periods of time. Programs like HubSpot, MailChimp, etc. have made creating these campaigns easier than ever.  Make sure you make your customers are actually opening your emails with a subject line that peaks their curiosity, but also creates a sense of urgency. Remember your customers are getting hundreds of emails a week with the average open rate being 24.19% and only 5.89% of those customers clicking through to your website or landing page. This just means you’ll have to get creative in how you give them a reason to open yours. 3) Partnership promoter programs Create a network of service professionals from different industries. By creating partnerships with other professionals you’ll develop a referral program within your network. A good way to get started with networking for your business is joining a group that’s already established, such as your local BNI (business networking international) chapter.  4) Get free press You don’t always have to pay for good press. Bloggers, local sites, and papers often have free options. If you offer to give them a free service in return for free press, the story will be even more personal. 5) Go live on Facebook or Periscope Live video is a great way to get in front of your customers in a more personable way. Show your customers what happens behind the scenes. Knowing what goes on during the job will give them peace of mind when booking you. Make sure you encourage engagement from your viewers throughout the video and share them as marketing content. 6) Set up custom audiences on Facebook Creating a custom audience, such as a lookalike audience, on Facebook will help you reach potential customers with buying habits similar to your current customers. Click here to get started. 7) Set up a referral system We all know how important referrals are to a business when it comes to gaining the trust of your potential customers. A good way to drive even more referrals is to incentivize your customers to send you more new business with a referral program. Offer them a discount on their next service or send them a gift thanking them for bringing your new business. 8) Create a blog Creating content for your customers will make you look professional and give you more credibility. Some topics you could write about are DIY maintenance tips, fun facts about your industry, or a spotlight about a large job you’ve done. Make sure you share your content with any groups on social media that your customers might be a part of. 9) Post photos of your jobs on Instagram The majority of your customers are active on Instagram. To ensure that you’re getting in front of your audience, share before and after pictures on Instagram. Make sure to include a few hashtags and your location so new customers can find you. 10) Create more video content and post them on YouTube Video is one of the best ways to get your customers attention. It’s easy for your customers to digest what you’re sharing, through a visual medium. Make sure your videos are interesting enough that your viewers will share them with their friends. Some successful tactics we’ve seen are job time-lapses, technique walkthroughs, and ‘day in the life’ videos. Your video shouldn’t just live on Youtube, make sure you share it on all your other social platforms to get more interaction and viewers. 11) Run contests A good way to drive brand awareness is through a contest. Get creative and think outside the box when brainstorming contest ideas. Make sure your contest promotes your company and include a call to action that drives traffic towards your business. You can even give the winner a prize that promotes your business such as a discount, branded t-shirt, etc. (ex. Ask your customers to share before and after photos of the work you’ve done for them. Make sure you ask them to tag you in it and the winner gets a discount on their next service). 12) Participate in local philanthropies An easy way to obtain more customers is having more involvement in the community you’re serving. Do pro-bono work for non-profits, or network at a charity event. You’ll reach new customers and build trust with them too. 13) Get on the radio and local television as a feature segment Radio and television stations love to feature local small business on their shows. Send them a pitch, showing them the value that you offer their viewers and even suggest that they come on site with you for a more interactive piece. 14) EDDM direct mailers Through EDDM (every door direct mail) you can canvas whole neighborhoods with your marketing material. You just have to target the right geographic areas that you service, create your offer, and launch your campaign. Learn more and get started here. Direct mailers are great for remarketing to your current customers too. Remind them to rebook a service with you or offer them a customer discount with automated postcard marketing. Pro Tip: This is a great way to ask for reviews and referrals. 15) Advertise where your customers are Your customer demographic is mostly women, so you want to make sure you’re advertising where they consume the most media. Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook are all great platforms to reach your audience and are a great place to showcase all of the content we just discussed. Now that you have some ideas to start with, go ahead a try a few. You don’t need to try them all at once, but you should test a few out and make sure to get creative with your campaigns. In order to ensure your campaigns are working, you’ll want to measure your results with good unit economics. Set aside a budget for you to prove what works best before you spend too much money on one campaign. If something doesn’t work within the first week, that’s okay. You’ll need to test, iterate, and optimize your strategy over multiple weeks.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

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