When you’re just starting out as a residential HVAC contractor, one of the challenges is generating more business on a consistent basis. Word-of-mouth is great, but it can only take you so far. Once you grow to a certain size and invest in a few additional trucks, hire some techs, maybe hire a helper or two, and bring in a couple office/administrative folks, suddenly you find no matter how good you are, referrals and repeat business just isn’t enough to keep everyone busy. You need more leads — like, yesterday.

Success with One Results in a New Challenge

Most HVACR contractors begin by investing in advertising and marketing programs designed to generate leads and jobs from homeowners. They rebuild their websites, put the right ad tracking and analytical tools in place to measure results, and proceed to get started with search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, and pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaigns. But, in the race to generate more business, some contractors find themselves with a new and unfamiliar problem: more leads/sales than capacity.

Some of you may be wondering, “What’s the problem? Just hire more guys.”

In certain parts of the country, that’s easier said than done. In Maryland, just outside Washington, District of Columbia, sourcing talent is not easy. “We demand more from our HVAC technicians than a lot of other service companies. Finding qualified technicians in our area — Montgomery County, Maryland — who are willing and able to deliver to our expectations is an ongoing challenge,” said Richard Biava, vice president of GAC Services, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The challenge of attracting and retaining great employees isn’t limited to the nation’s capital, either. Some HVAC companies in the Midwest are also having a tough time.

“In today’s society, we are having problems finding enough technicians to fill our needs,” said Gary Kellermeier, president of Kellermeier Plumbing & Heating Inc., Haskins, Ohio. “We are competing not only with other HVAC companies, but with a bunch of other industries, as well. It’s difficult to attract workers to an industry that involves climbing into attics and crawl spaces and being outside in inclement weather. One of our greatest challenges is competing with public sector city, county, state, and university jobs where wages, benefits, and work hours are more attractive,” said Kellermeier.

The Solution: Recruitment Advertising

When you’ve got more leads and jobs than you can possibly handle, and you’re having a hard time finding qualified technicians, it’s time to expand your marketing strategy to include recruitment advertising. While the tech world has known about recruitment advertising for more than a decade, the term is alien to most small or medium-sized home service companies. The only difference between traditional advertising and recruitment advertising is the target audience. Instead of advertising to raise awareness and generate an inquiry from homeowners with furnaces that need replacing or heat pumps on the fritz, the goal of recruitment advertising is to gain attention, interest, and action from job seekers. Much like traditional marketing, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind to be successful.

The Sales-funnel Mentality

Think of the recruitment process like a sales funnel. At the top of the funnel is awareness. Job seekers need to know your company exists before they can develop an interest and apply.

To increase awareness for your company with the best job seekers, you need to advertise where they’re looking. This typically means creating a company profile and/or posting your open positions on popular career and industry websites (hint, hint… like www.achrnews.com).

Search marketing (e.g. SEO and pay-per-click [PPC] advertising) is another way job seekers find new opportunities. Go to Google and search keyword phrases like, “HVAC technician [city, state].” Does your website come up on the first page? If it doesn’t, and you’re hiring, you need to invest in an SEO campaign and perhaps PPC ads specific to your recruitment efforts.

“You need to constantly be building a healthy pipeline of qualified candidates,” said Biava. “We take marketing to job seekers very seriously. At any given time, we’re investing in search engine optimization for the careers page of our website, paid display advertising, and job postings on traditional career websites.”

Social Media Marketing

While the jury is still out with respect to the effectiveness of social media sites for lead and sale generation, there’s no question sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are a hotbed of recruitment activity. Both offer free organic and paid promotional opportunities. When engaging in recruitment advertising on Facebook, companies massage their messages to be more lighthearted and entertaining. Videos and photos on Facebook tend to do much better in terms of engagement than text updates. LinkedIn, on the other hand, allows for a more direct, business-oriented approach.

Create a Killer Careers Page

Before you spend a nickel on recruitment advertising, it’s important you create and fully optimize the careers page on your website. There’s no point in investing your money or your time to drive qualified job seekers to your website if you’re going to greet them with the same old blah-blah job openings page.

Each year, I review thousands of HVACR and plumbing websites, and it’s truly shocking to see how few even have a careers page, let alone a good one. A properly optimized careers section of your website should incorporate a primary page that includes:

• A company overview — Who you are (history, services, service area, etc.);

• Why you — Why someone should join your team (awards, benefits, training, etc.);

• Open positions — Or the positions you routinely have open;

• Call-to-action — What you want qualified job seekers to do; and

• Individual pages — Make one for each open position or positions you routinely hire.

The reason you want to create an individual page for each of your open positions is because search engines rank pages based on relevance and authority. By creating one page for HVAC customer service representative, another for HVAC technician, and another for residential HVAC service manager, you dramatically increase the odds these pages show up in Google keyword searches.

Recruitment Advertising is Not for Everyone

Although recruitment is an aspect of advertising many business owners overlook, not every HVACR company has a tough time finding great people. Every geographic area is different.

Bryce Johnson, owner, Air Conditioning by Jay Inc., Scottsdale, Arizona, said, “We’re always looking for great people, and we have used recruitment agencies in the past, but we are usually able to fill our open positions with referrals from our current employees.”

The same is true in Lenexa, Kansas, where Mike Brosseit, president, Top Notch Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, offered similar feedback: “We don’t really have an issue with hiring in our area, but we’re lucky. We have a good technical school that we utilize, and we have a really low turnover rate, so we’re not bringing on new employees constantly,” said Brosseit.

Audience, Goals, Tracking, and Strategy

Whether attracting great people to work for your company is difficult in your neck of the woods or a walk in the park, there’s one takeaway that should apply to every business owner. When it comes to advertising and marketing, you’ve got to define your target audience, establish goals, install the right tracking tools, and articulate a strategy to test.

For many HVAC companies, the target audience isn’t just homeowners. Set goals related to your marketing investments. How many leads or jobs do you expect to generate from your spring PPC campaign? How many qualified applicants do you project will come in by way of your SEO recruitment advertising efforts? With the right tools in place, things like this can easily be measured, tracked, and evaluated. Finally, make sure you define a strategy and test it (that’s the key word — test).

If you’re running a small company, the thought of having more work than you can handle may seem like a welcome worry. It may seem crazy to invest marketing dollars to generate more job applicants, but, in some markets, it’s a necessity. Like most things in business, it often pays to be proactive versus reactive. Take the time while you have it to create a presence for your company on industry and career websites, get active on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and build/optimize an awesome career page on your website. Like a life boat, it’s a little too late to build these things when you actually need them.

Publication date: 4/20/2015

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