Eric Aune 2013-07-03 06:44:58
Participate in technical training, then market what you know “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” — W. Edwards Deming As a modern contractor today, survival in business relies on our ability to recognize all avenues of opportunity set before us. In the ranks of radiant heating contractors, there exists only a few who have taken full advantage of all that surrounds us in the form of training and marketing. Are you one of them? Just recently I had the opportunity to play a game of cribbage with a close friend and family member. My Uncle Mark is a retired plumbing and heating contractor with dozens of years of residential hydronic service and installation under his belt.As usual, our conversation revolved around the business of contracting. But this time the focus was on marketing, training and how the two must go hand in hand. Long gone are the days of earning jobs based solely on a handshake or reputation. For decades, it has been a test for all in the industry that to remain competitive, we must continue To prove ourselves and our offerings as a value to our clients.Relying on experience and reputation is not enough. Today our competitors are getting smarter and taking advantage of every possible educational outlet available. My dear Uncle Mark pointed out quickly the differences of how I run my business compared to what was demanded of him in the early years of his career. He cited training and marketing as two major components of the contracting business that have change immensely over the last five years. So, what must we do today to remain competitive in a market and industry that, by its very existence, compels the very latest and greatest in technology and performance? The answer isn’t a simple one. Many pieces of the puzzle need to be aligned for the proper end result. A friend of mine and very successful business adviser coaches a multitude of contractors on running a profitable business. The profitability piece to this modern contractor puzzle is the foundation to build on but what can you do to tip the scales in your favor when the next job opportunity comes along? Training is critical for success One thing that has changed greatly since Uncle Mark started his business is the amount and quality of training provided by product manufacturers. I’ve noticed this myself in the almost 10 years in the industry. Many of you likely can say the same thing. The investment made into training by some very notable manufacturers and trade associations has paid off in the tremendous education offerings for contractors. The facilities and course content have been assembled by some of the greatest minds in the business. As a contractor today, you can participate in factory training in state-of-the-art classrooms, take a factory tour or have manufacturers travel to you for convenient shop or jobsite training. This content and knowledge is not only available in physical form but also virtually via webinars, further adding to our exposure to more and more information — information that just a decade ago was held close to the chest and offered only to the faithful buying customers of its creators. In today’s marketplace, the creators (manufacturers in particular) recognize the demand and the benefit of sharing their training programs with any who will follow. Often these programs are packaged in one- or two-day engagements, and many come at no charge. But make no mistake, there is always a cost involved to those who travel or attend classes instead of being out on a job. The decision has to be made whether the content available can justify the loss of time and earnings. Any contractor who is not taking full advantage of the industry training available to him is falling behind to his competitors and will eventually succumb to his own demise. Relying solely on reputation when it comes to qualifications will eventually have you on the outside looking in at those who have added the latest and most technical training to their professional offerings. Education for all in your organization is the key to your survival. It’s up to you to market your newfound knowledge. Marketing via social networking As I found myself rounding the last corner on the cribbage board, I asked Uncle Mark to tell me more about how he marketed his business when he started out 35 years ago. The conversation was short and included words rarely spoken while discussing the subject today. Strategies back then mostly consisted of running Yellow Pages ads or listings, sponsoring a local Little League team with the business name on a team jersey or a sign on the left field fence. Some notable components that still exist today and probably always will were the dependence on referrals and recommendations by satisfied customers. But overall, the contrast in marketing strategy couldn’t be greater due mostly to the Internet and most notably the success of social networking. That’s the 600 lb. Elephant in the room for so many of us in the trades. At the beginning of this article I alluded to the idea that only a few contractors in our trade have been successful in marketing themselves.Of course, their success is largely due to their abilities as contractors to be profitable and capable of delivering the promises they make to their clients. But getting the word out to said clients efficiently by way of modern technology must take a backseat to no other. The most successful contractors today, whether small or large, are publicizing their talents across multiple platforms — getting in front of customers and creating content and conversation for all those who might need their services now or in the future. Social networking is here to stay and remains the best way to advertise your services to clients on a broad spectrum. Taking advantage of all the training possibilities out there is just one step in remaining competitive.Marketing your offerings through technology is just as important. Oh, Uncle Mark and I continued the cribbage challenge to the best three out of five … I won. About the author: Eric Aune, owner of Zimmerman, Minn.-based Aune Plumbing, chairs the RPA’s Technical Committee. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his plumbing and heating blog by visiting http://auneplumbing.blogspot.com/.
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