Josh has been involved in the construction industry his entire adult life. Having worked in nearly every position in the construction industry from Laborer, Foreman, Estimator, Sales Rep, Superintendant, Operations Manager and Owner. He enjoys the extremely high end work and figuring out the details and problems that leave the other guys heads spinning. He is also an active php web developer contributing to several open source projects and Co-Lead Developer of ContractorBMS. In his free time you can find spending time with his wife and kids, cheering on the Louisville Cardinals, or watching a documentary on Netflix.
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Angie's list has been getting a lot of attention lately. From its IPO last year to the massive advertising campaign it has launched. Even posting a loss recently their membership has grown nearly 66% based on their reports. For a long time I liked how their system worked. Customer's paid to have access to a business listing as opposed to most of the sites where the service provider buys leads. It was free for my business and while I didn't get lots of high value projects, I got several small service type jobs that where good and profitable.
Everything seemed well until I got a sales call last week from my "Ad Sales Representative". She starts on what appears to be a call about making sure all my information is accurate and then switches straight to selling me advertising. She asks me how I'm liking angieslist and I tell her "I like it because I don't have to pay for leads and it's much more ethical than most lead generation sites". No sooner than I state that she cut into how would you like to increase your exposure. Right now you're in a bucket of contractors and for a fee you can make your listing rank higher up the list.
New for 2013 is the Official Contractors Club Directory. I get several requests a month from homeowners using the "Contact Us" site looking for a contractor. I typically don't respond to them unless I know someone in the area off hand. I figured by introducing the Contractor Directory section to the site it will give us all an opportunity not only to make ourselves available to the homeowners browsing the site but internally as a list of who's doing what and where.
I have not made an official set of requirements and won't until we find a bad apple. So as of know it's safe to assume that those listed in this directory are ethical and have nothing but the best intentions when it comes to serving the public.
Most contractors have little knowledge on how to properly estimate a job. How many of these "What's the going rate" or "How much should I charge" questions have you came across on the internet? Now some things are hard to estimate especially if you have no previous data to use or doing something that truly is unique. If you are specialty contractor that does something like windows, roofing, siding, decks or some other sort of repetitive trade estimating is easy and can be nearly effortless.
Let face it. Estimating accurately is defiantly one of the most important aspects of contracting. If your bids are to low you're going to get lots of low profit work and have a high liability to profit ratio. If your numbers are to high, you going to barely get any work at all. If you are accurately bidding your jobs and keeping your costs down by negotiating with vendors you should hit that sweet spot where you are getting plenty of good profitable work.
5 years ago most specialty contractors had a simple business model that consisted of buying the biggest ad in the yellow pages they could afford and letting the phone ring. For most it worked and it worked well. Fast forward to today and most don't even have a phone book in their house. If I need a to find something I normally just pick up my phone and search for it. If I'm researching for a company to come install new windows I'm most likely going to use my desktop PC in the evening where I can spend the time reviewing several local contractors websites.
This is when pay per click (PPC) advertising really let's you narrow down who see's your ad and puts you right in front of your prospects exactly when they are looking. Unlike traditional mailer's that you have a post card designed and just blast them out falling on many customers that don't need your services. PPC puts you in front of them when they are looking.
One of the simplest and cost effective things to do to reinforce your company's brand is sending out a simple "Thank You" letter. Most customer's feel that when hiring a contractor the final payment is the only leverage they have. This goes a long way and lets the customer know that just because you cashed the final check you are still there and appreciate the business. This will help enforce that your company truly does appreciate them being happy and will make them more comfortable about referring you to friends and family.
What I have always done is kept a general 3 paragraph template and just customized the middle paragraph to fit each customer. This makes it more personal while still keeping it an efficient step towards building your customer relations. Here is an example that I use:
If you're like most contractors Nov-Feb are some of your slower months. Some plan ahead and start early in the summer by offering small yet substantial discounts if customer's are willing wait until the winter months to start their project. The ones that do this have a surplus of work and have been through this slow period before, the other's where happy to stay working during the busy season but now are finding themselves going into winter with little to no work.
In general no matter how much work you have winter is just a slower period for business in general. Less daylight, holidays, weather, etc. So this is a good time to tighten up your books and work on future marketing.
This is a tough question to give an exact answer to. In my area of the country, the cost per square foot of Fiber Cement falls between Vinyl Siding and Brick Veneer. Brick Veneer is going to last the longest and be less likely to need any sort of maintenance but that comes with the premium cost. Even if you have a budget that can afford your home to be covered in brick, odds are you still will need some area's accented in siding such as dormer's, gables, chimneys, and various other cantilever's on your home's exterior.
This brings you to the question of what type of siding do I use. Vinyl, Fiber Cement, or some other sort material like wood. Vinyl siding is cheap and if installed correctly, gives you the best value for your dollar. Fiber Cement siding costs over twice as much, requires a little more maintenance, but offer's a much better curb appeal.
Most likely if you are reading this you care about the service you offer your customer and are quality minded contractor. You also most likely are sick in tired of being asked to lower your price due to another contractor giving what you would consider a unreasonably low price. First thing you need to realize is that you can't win them all. What you can do is educate the customer on what you offer that the others guys don't and show value in your service. If you don't present yourself as being knowledgeable and professional you are just going to look expensive.
Price doesn't drive a customer's decision as much as you might think. You can learn the most about people's buying habits by studying your own. Are you wearing the cheapest shirt you could find? Did you drive to three different store's looking for cheapest pair of work boot's? If you are a price buyer, quit trying to sell things. Your doomed. If you think your service is expensive, you're going to show that when you deliver your proposal. Whether it's inadvertently with body language or just come out and say "I know this more than you where thinking" you're going to convince the customer you have no value. Price makes a statement about your credibility and quality of your service.
Lots of times you find yourself doing work by the hour. Some business's such as electrician's, HVAC, and plumber's that run larger service departments normally always charge by the hour. There are lot's of way's to figure your hourly rate and the large company's have it down to a science, but the little 2-3 man shop's tend to leave lot's of money on the table. They tend not to spend the time to break down the real costs and overhead because they think "Hey it's a small job. It wont' take much time". The reality is the small jobs take more time and company resources than it appears.
Normally a small job consists of sending a salesman out to see what exactly the problem is, typing up a proposal that show's the hourly rate and estimated cost of materials, vehicle expenses, drive time including port to port, labor, profit, and if you pay a salesman - commission.