10 Common Sense Business Basics

10 common sense business basicsContractors frequently look for new ways to improve and grow their businesses. Most of the time focusing on good old fashioned business basics can make the biggest difference.

We recommend every contractor take an honest look at their business to see if they’re doing the basic “blocking and tackling” by adhering to these ten common sense business basics.


1. ANSWER THE PHONE REGULARLY AND PROFESSIONALLY
In this age of growing technology and automation, nothing comforts a customer more than hearing a live person answer the phone. If you are often out of the office, consider having your calls forwarded to your cell phone or investing in an answering service. When you answer your phone, be sure to offer a friendly voice and state the name of your company clearly. Answering with just your name or no salutation at all is extremely unprofessional. Avoid answering your phone via speaker. A caller on the other end of a speaker may not feel as if you are concentrating solely on their call and may also want to speak to you privately.

An answering service can be an attractive option, especially if taking customer calls often means your attention is being taken away from the job you are currently working. Many answering services can also be armed with answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” about your rates or business practices which can make a potential customer feel as if they have made some progress, even if they have not gotten directly in touch with you.

2. RETURN PHONE CALLS WITHIN ONE BUSINESS DAY
Many customers will assume that if a call is not returned promptly, you are not interested in taking new business. Additionally, most people assume that a lack of responsiveness during the “courting stage” is indicative of what they can expect if there were to hire you. A promptly returned call sets the tone and expectation for your performance. If you return a call quickly, customers will assume that you want their business and that you operate efficiently. If you do not have all of the information for a potential client, a call to say you received their message and are looking for more information can comfort them. Many prospective clients have called several plumbers in the area—your quick response time could make the difference between a job gained and a job lost.

3. REMIT INVOICES PROMPTLY
Your customers should initially have a clear sense of what they are going to be charged for any given job. Always supply them with a written estimate—either for the project’s total cost or for estimated hours and the price per hour. If the customer is paying separately for materials, those receipts should be saved, and copies should be provided to the client if requested. If you provide a quick turnaround for your invoices you not only set the tone for your business as an efficient one, but you also establish an expectation that your bill will be paid on time. If your billing is delayed, don’t be surprised if your payment is delayed as well. Your bills should also have a clearly-marked due date so that customers know the acceptable time frame for remitting payment.

4. ASK FOR REFERRALS
Referrals are one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to grow and promote your business. It’s also a clear measure of your customers’ satisfaction rate. One way to establish a referral program is to simply provide your existing clients with low-cost promotional materials, such as a magnet, pen, calendar, or other small promotional gift. A neighbor who sees your magnet on the fridge may be prompted to ask about your services. Simply giving your customers extra business cards can also do the trick.

A more-involved referral program would offer your clients with something of value for new business. For example, you can give existing customers a percentage off the next job, a gift card, or cash for leading a friend to use your services. However, you must make clear that customers don’t get a free gift for just spreading the word—a new customer has to result from their efforts.

5. MAKE SURE YOU CAN BE FOUND ON-LINE
A simple ad in the Yellow Pages is no longer enough to provide your business with the marketing power it needs to stand apart from the competition. Internet World Stats reports that as of June 30, 2009, more than 250 million people in North America use the internet. Promoting your business online is a must in today’s marketplace. Having your own website is the bare minimum.

Consumers expect that virtually every business nowadays has a website. In fact, many consumers will discount using you entirely if they look for a website and don’t find one. Your website projects your company’s image and provides important information about your business 24/7. Getting online is easy, as there are ways to completely outsource the process. The site can be built, run, and managed relatively inexpensively. Beyond a website, there are many forms of online advertising and online directories that are quickly replacing the printed “yellow pages” and other forms of traditional advertising. It is often necessary to employ several and narrow down to the ones that prove to be the most cost effective.

6. GO THE EXTRA MILE
Kevin Strirtz, known as “The Amazing Service Guy,” has written several books and taught customer-service seminars all over the world. He notes on his website, www.amazingserviceguy.com, that when you go the extra mile for your customers, it’s unexpected and, therefore becomes memorable. They tell others, want to come back for a repeat experience, or to see what else you will do for them. Simple things like writing a thank you note, performing a quick, low-cost extra fix, or calling to follow up after the job has been completed, can ensure that your customers will remember, and want to repeat, the positive experience they’ve had with your business.

7. ADOPT A SPECIALTY
If you want to stand out from the crowd, provide a special or additional service to your clients. A customer should be able to get something from your business that they can’t get from every other plumber in the area. Whether that takes the form of exceptional customer service, extended hours, or “green” plumbing you should find a way to make yourself unique. A relatively new way to stand out from the crowd is to become Eco Certified. This certification enables you to evaluate a home to recommend changes for the family to reduce energy and water consumption. This certification can provide an added benefit to your customers and to your business.

8. STAY ORGANIZED
If your desk is a mess, your truck is a disaster area, and you can’t find materials receipts, notes or client information, then your customer service, business and income will suffer. And, regularly having to take time to find all those things will take time away from hours when you can be billing clients, growing your business and making money.

Take advantage of tips from organizational websites, such as www.lifeorganizers.com. Or, if you are in deep disorganization, think about hiring a professional organizer for a one-time “get it together” session. These groups can not only help you get your papers in order, but they can offer time management tips as well. Presenting an organized truck, files, and office space to the public will project an image of competence and efficiency and will also allow you to be responsive to your clients.

9. USE TECHNO-POWER
You can also help your business run more efficiently and effectively by taking advantage of freeware online business solutions. Sites, such as www.myonlinetoolbox.com, offer freeware for invoicing, estimating, purchasing and scheduling, to help you maximize your time and profits, allowing you to do what you do best. Quite often, you can find these freeware solutions through a simple Google search. Many of these companies offer two versions of their software, a free version with basic functionality and a paid version with some type of enhanced functionality (e.g., like the ability to add more users or accept online payments).

10.GET TO KNOW OTHER PLUMBERS
Trade associations, such as The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC), can allow you to network with other plumbers, and learn of new techniques, business practices, and marketing methods. Additionally, some trade associations can have educational programs where you can keep current with the skills of the plumbing industry and become aware of legislation affecting plumbing businesses nationally. Join these groups, visit plumbing community websites, and talk to other contractors in your area to keep current on the industry and your competitors.

Following these 10 Common Sense Business Basics will allow you to gain an edge over the competition, run an efficient business, and make sure you are playing at the top of your game.