SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The jam-packed schedule at the recent Quality Service Contractors (QSC) Power Meeting XX offered something for everyone. Seminars ranged from a marketing session that was heavy on spreadsheets to a juggler who urged everyone to put a little more fun into their lives (and work).

All the speakers had something in common, offering pointed advice on how to make a business more successful.

Daryl Miller, Fischer Plumbing, Seattle, offered an interesting seminar on how contractors can protect their businesses from risk.

Marketing Workshop

Gary Elekes, a veteran of the HVAC industry and owner of a contracting firm, led an incredibly in-depth marketing session. He noted that there are key pieces of information that a business has to have in place before marketing can be truly effective. They include:

  • A business model, which re-quires a look at the whole business approach.

  • Business plans and goals. These will make it easier to create marketing plans.

  • Company strategies. The overall strategy of a company creates intense focus among its employees.

  • A marketing plan that fits with the business plan. Good marketing aligns to the big picture objective, which is service.

  • Specific marketing goals. These goals drive the decisions for strategies, media, promotions, process, materials, budget, and training.

  • Specific marketing strategies.

  • A marketing campaign, which includes media, promotions, communications, and operations.

    Elekes noted that contractors are busy people and may feel that budgets, forecasts, and strategies are just too complicated for those who run small businesses. But he added that only by putting all the pieces into place would a business grow significantly.

    "This process requires total engagement, which is the intense desire for success plus the willingness to change," said Elekes.

    In the presentation, Elekes pointed out three types of marketing: external marketing (advertising and promotions), internal marketing (communication with your people), and operational marketing (your processes and support materials). All three pieces need to be in place before successful marketing will happen, he said.

    He stressed that leads should be driven by technicians who are out in the field, as they are in a position to see what other work needs to be done. To that end, Elekes suggested tracking every additional service that is generated by a technician in the field on a spreadsheet. He also stated that service agreements should be offered frequently to customers.

    "In the HVAC business, each service agreement customer generates $650 a year in sales," said Elekes. "That doesn't require any marketing expense."

    Elekes provided each of the QSC members with a binder containing extensive marketing in-formation, as well as a CD with spreadsheet templates that can be installed on the computer and filled in by the contractor.

    Mick Lunzer stressed that business owners need to make the workplace a more fun and inviting place to be.

    Protecting Your Business

    Daryl Miller, Fischer Plumbing, Seattle, offered an interesting seminar on how contractors can protect their businesses from financial, legal, and personal risk. On the financial side, he suggested that contractors keep a good amount of cash available, manage debt properly, look for ways to pay less for insurance, and figure out the major taxes on earnings.

    To boost cash flow, Miller said that technicians must become more productive. He said that the average technician is only productive 50 percent of the day due to late starts, early finishes, improper tools, missing parts, address errors, personal problems, vehicle breakdown, and poor planning.

    "If you just increase productivity 15 percent, then profit and cash will double," noted Miller.

    He suggested keeping a spreadsheet that shows just how much cash is coming into the business every day (daily deposit). This helps contractors track from day to day, month to month, how much cash is being generated.

    He noted that managing debt is often a big concern and that contractors need to have a good combination of short-term debt (e.g., line of credit) and long-term debt (more than 60 months). He offered a novel approach to obtaining more credit from a bank. "Take $10,000 in business funds, and buy a $100,000 rental house. Make oversize payments and pay it off, then let the business own it."

    Miller contended that a bank is much more likely to offer credit against a tangible item (the rental house) than against a business. It also offers the advantage of having a lien against the house rather than against the business itself, he said.

    Contractors need to protect themselves from legal risk by outlining asset protection and transfer proceedings. For example, what would happen if the owner becomes incapacitated, deceased, or divorced? Other items to consider under legal risk, he said, are taxes on transfer (estate taxes), vehicle accident claims, employee injury claims, and customer lawsuits.

    Miller suggested that all contractors have a will, a power of attorney, and a buy/sell agreement, especially if one person owns the business. He also noted that asset protection could take place by properly defining a company as a corporation. He suggested "C corp." status for two or more owners, or "S corp." status for one owner (including husband and wife owners).

    Personal risk involves the untimely incapacitation of an owner, and items such as life insurance, medical directives, and a power of attorney should be in place, he said. In addition, he said owners should consider compensation strategies, retirement, and an exit plan out of the business.

    Sharon Roberts gave a lively seminar on how to sell to women and couples.

    Different Perspectives

    Sharon Roberts, Roberts and Roberts Associates, Plano, Texas, gave an insightful seminar on how contractors should be selling to women and couples. She stressed that men and women are different in the way they communicate, react, socialize, shop, and make decisions. Contractors need to recognize those differences if they want to sell service or product to female customers, she stressed.

    "Women are the chief financial officers in all families. They influence more than 80 percent of all sales of consumer products and services," said Roberts.

    She stated that women were looking for trust and credibility when they hire someone and that contractors should be clean, courteous, caring, considerate, confident, and capable if they want the female customer to commit to having the service performed.

    The disadvantages that can occur if a female encounters bad service are staggering. She said that women share information about their buying experiences with other women. Contractors who provide good service will usually get a positive referral, while contractors providing poor service will lose hundreds or even thousands of customers due to the negative word-of-mouth.

    There are several items that women want to hear about from the contractor, said Roberts. In this order, women want to hear about the contractor's staff, how the equipment works, safety features, maintenance, repairs, environmental issues, longer service hours, warranties, and financing.

    Roberts urged contractors to really pay attention to female customers, and that includes handing her a business card along with her husband. Things that can offend a female customer include calling her a "term of endearment" (e.g., sweetie, honey), calling the women back at your office "girls," looking at your watch, interrupting her, taking cell phone calls, and not making eye contact with her.

    "Remember," admonished Roberts, "women don't gossip. They advertise."

    The Power Meeting ended with a presentation by professional juggler and yo-yo champion Mick Lunzer, who based his speech on the short film "Fish." This customer service-oriented film documents a Seattle fish market, in which the employees have fun while working and the customers love them. The fish philosophy, as Lunzer calls it, has four principles: Play, make their day, be there, and choose your attitude.

    Lunzer noted, "65 percent of your waking hours are spent at work. If your job is a bummer, then 65 percent of your life is a bummer. You can change that by changing your attitude."

    Publication date: 05/17/2004