Why Good Reviews are Imperative to a Contractor’s Success

A Simple Recipe Part Four  – (Of A Four Part Series)

By Bobby Parks

In the past when a potential customer asked for a list of references, you provided names of past clients that you knew would say good things about us. For most contractors, this request occurred later in the sales process after you had established rapport with the prospect and at a point that you were seriously being considered for the job. It was often the last test you had to pass before contracting. Because you provided a select list of satisfied customers, you had control and an ability to manage what the new prospect would hear. Today the reference check has been moved up in the process sequence and occurs before any rapport has occurred. In fact, this test is being given before you even know you are being considered and you can fail without ever knowing an exam was given. 

In today’s market, most customers do their due diligence online. They’re not only searching for contractors in their area, but also trying to determine which ones are reputable and trustworthy and to what degree their past customers are happy or unhappy. In large part, this determination is made by reading past customer reviews. You no longer have that same degree of reference control as online reviews are our modern-day references. And instead of being the last test you had to pass; it is now a first step and being viewed before a potential customer even contacts you. 

I have met contractors who not only do not have reviews, but also consider themselves too busy to worry about it. They have invested years of building a reputation and leave a long list of satisfied customers but do not push to get the positive reviews. But the problem and risks are that at some point, you will cross paths with an unreasonable customer, or you will stumble and get a bad review. So even if 99% of your past customers are satisfied with your work, if your only review is a negative one and you have no “Stars” lit up, you’re going to look TOXIC as a contractor. If this is the case how many potential customers will want to hire you? 

Building a foundation of good reviews creates an insurance policy to protect the damage that a bad one can create. The more good reviews you have the better you will be able to absorb a negative post. Good reviews do not make the bad one go away, but it lessens the impact. Your 5-star rating may drop to 4.5 or 4.75, but it won’t sink your ship. Most potential prospects understand that no one’s perfect, and when they see twenty good reviews along with one or two bad ones, you are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt. Even better, follow up and address the bad review in an unemotional and professional manner, which will likely negate the bad review altogether. You may be upset with what you believe to be an unfair post, but it’s not important that the negative reviewer know what you really think; what is important  is that future prospects see that an issue has been addressed. Most can read between the lines. Look at it this way: 

Think about it this way: If you’re out of town and Googling for a restaurant “near me” and some have reviews with 4-5 stars with good comments while others have one or two stars and negative comments, where are you going to have dinner? If survey results for something as inexpensive as a meal are a factor in your decision, it certainly makes sense that survey results are going to be a factor in a $20,000+ deck or remodeling investment.

Delivering quality projects with a quality experience is a given requirement to obtain good reviews and succeed in our business. Having a good process, communications, and follow-up systems must be in place. For me, once the project was completed it was a basic process of sending all customers our company’s warranty and a simple “In House” survey that included five sections for the customer to rate us on a 1-5 scale. At the bottom of this survey, we included a section for comments. Often, we took these comments and transferred them to our website in the “Customer Reviews” section. But more importantly we sent them a request asking them to go to one of three review sites that were relevant when I was contracting and do a review. We did not impose on the customer to do reviews on all sites and varied the request to assure we built up a solid foundation on all relevant ones. 

I also made it a point to follow up with a personal email thanking them for the opportunity to work with them. In my email, I included Before & After photos of their project to remind them of the changes to their home we created, and to hopefully inspire them to post a good review. It is at this point immediately after project completion that our clients are likely to be as happy as they are ever going to be. Everything is new and excitement is at a peak. To wait months could make the difference of a 4 to 5 Star score.  

According to some statistics, 68% of consumers are willing to spend up to 15% more for the same product or service if they are assured they will have a better experience. A consumer is making a substantial investment when choosing a deck builder or remodeler, and who they select to do the work reflects on their appetite for risk. We know they have heard contractor horror stories, and there have always been sub-par contractors out there, creating uncertainty about what their experience will be and how a job will be delivered. So, faced with spending a substantial amount of money anyway, many risk-averse customers will decide to spend a little more on an established contractor with a history of satisfied customers and strong reviews. 

I know from experience that it can be challenging to get even the most satisfied customers to go through the hassle of going online, creating an ID and password, and posting a review. And unfortunately, unhappy people just seem to be more motivated to do this than satisfied ones. So, how do you convince those happy customers to let others know how awesome you are?

A lot comes down to your relationship and communication with your customer, which should occur throughout the project, not just at the start or when you want a progress payment. Make sure they understand that you are committed to making them happy, and that you are going to ask them to take the time to help you by doing a review. Acknowledge that it may take a few minutes to set up an ID and password but leverage off your established relationship and ask a second and third time if that is what it takes. I made a commitment on the day that I contracted that we were going to satisfy them and served notice that I was going to ask for a review once the job was completed.

Online customer reviews also impact how Google ranks you in SEO searches. Google algorithms are ever changing, but the fresh content aspects are part of the current SEO recipe and can impact rankings by as much as 10%. So, this should be added motivation for securing those reviews from your clients.  People only know what they read, hear, and see and perception is everything.

In this four-part series I have shared a simple, but effective approach that not only allows for a successful business but provides an opportunity to stand out and have added profitability. Having a sound building philosophy, effective messaging, good referrals, a website that wreaks credibility, maintaining a social media presence, and leveraging of photos, will make a significant difference in how your career as a business owner functions. These elements shape what people read, hear, and see, creating a perception of you and your company. The statistic mentioned earlier regarding reviews that states that some customers will pay 15% more for contractors that they have full confidence in was true for my business. But I look at this ability to increase profits as being possible because of the full recipe I operated by. It required all ingredients in the recipe discussed in this four-part series. For me, this approach did allow for a smoother more stable operation and ability to increase profits by 10-15%.  

Read the rest of the series! Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

Bobby Parks
Instagram: @Bobbyparks007
BP Consulting and Design LLC
www.BPConsultingandDesign.com
Copyright Bobby Parks – June 18th, 2020

The Importance of a Positive Mindset for Your Business

A Builder’s Perspective

By: Heath Bowman, Southeastern Underdeck

There is no denying that we face uncertain and stressful circumstances as we continue to navigate COVID-19 and anticipate the fallout from it. It is all over the news, all over our social feeds, and all over our conversations. Let’s go ahead and say it together, “This sucks.”

Okay. We have that out of our system. Now for the next few minutes, put that aside. Let’s talk about something else. Whoever you are and wherever you work, every day you have a chance to lead. Right now, it is especially important that you lead from a standpoint of hope and positivity. When people—your teammates, your friends in the industry, your customers—when those people see you, do you want them to see a person in panic mode, or do you want them to see someone who is continuing to work hard and make the best of a difficult situation?

Think of the times you have faced a challenge or a crisis, one beyond your control. Do the people who make a better impact act out of fear, or out of hope?  Do they sit and remind people of how bad things are, or do they get to the work of solving the problem?

The construction industry is considered essential. That means we all have an opportunity to keep doing what we do and to do it well. When you see people working hard, what you see is people who have set their minds to solutions rather than problems. And that sort of image instills confidence and calm to the people who see it. Here are a few things that we at Southeastern Underdeck have done to send this message:

1. Communicate to your clients intentionally and with positive messages. Make sure potential clients know how to get in touch with you for estimates and questions, and make sure current clients know how to get in touch with your crews while projects are ongoing. If you are present and available, it sends a message that you are working in spite of difficulty. People will respond to that positively.

2. Make sure your staff is representing a positive and hopeful message. They are your ambassadors to your clients. Whether it is the person answering the phone in the office or the person swinging the hammer on a job site, make sure that they are representing your company well, and not letting their own fear or cynicism or frustration come through. Again, not that there is nothing to be concerned with, but when you’re at work, you show up to do work. When there is work being done, it means that you are working for tomorrow. When you pour a foundation today, you are anticipating building a house on it tomorrow.

3. Make sure people know that you are open and still doing business. If you have Facebook or Instagram, send out posts to your audience that let them know you’re there, you’re open, and you’re eager to serve them. If you do not have social media, then sign up for it. People use social media more than you can imagine to find reliable businesses and get recommendations from friends and neighbors. If you have a presence on social media, you have more avenues to communicate your message to others. Get it if you don’t have it and use it if you do.

Now, to be clear, none of this is not to say that we should not be prepared for the worst, or that we should ignore the difficulty. However, there is a difference in saying, “This is awful, there’s nothing I can do to fix it!” and saying, “This is awful, so I’m going to do everything I can to make it better.”

People can look anywhere to see what’s wrong. When they look to you—when they look to us—why not let them see people who are focused on making the world better around them instead of adding to the noise of what’s wrong?!


Decks and More Wins Two National Awards-One for Johns Creek Home

Decks and More, a Marietta-based remodeling company, recently won five awards from the North American Deck and Railing Association and two other National Contractor of the Year (CotY) honors from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. One of the homes lauded is a Buckhead house that won a CotY award for Green Residential Exteriors for its grand staircase leading from the back deck to the back yard. Decks and More also won a CotY honor for Residential Landscape Design/Outdoor Living Under $100,000. In the other association’s competition, it won first place for Best Covered Porch, second place for Limitless Creation, Wood Deck from $50,000 to $100,000 and Closed Porch and third place for Unique Features.

The National CotY awards are NARI’s premier awards for the remodeling industry. The annual accolades recognize excellence in remodeling across 48 categories. NARI members throughout the nation submit their best work for consideration by a panel of expert judges. Over the years, Decks and More has been honored for outstanding work at the local, regional and national level by NARI, the North American Deck and Railing Association and other professional organizations. www.nari.org/Recognition-Center/CotY/National-Winners

“It’s always rewarding to win a CotY Award, since the entries are judged by a panel of remodeling peers,” said Frank Pologruto, president of Decks and More. “As always, the competition was extremely tough, since remodelers from across the country submitted their best work. Decks and More is truly honored and grateful to receive these awards. I’d like to thank our clients, design team, creative carpenters, Southeastern Underdeck team, painters and our amazing electricians. These projects were total team efforts and I am honored and blessed to work with these professionals every day.”

National CotY Winner for Residential Landscape Design/Outdoor Living Under $100,000, Johns Creek, Ga.

“For this busy family who loves to entertain, we replaced an outdated and non-descript deck with a beautiful two-level outdoor entertainment area,” said Pologruto. The home features a professionally landscaped backyard with a pool, outdoor kitchen and flagstone patio, but the dated, existing deck hampered the flow from the house to the yard and detracted from the lovely landscape. The homeowners wanted two levels of attractive and functional outdoor living spaces, but they wanted their view preserved. We worked with partner Southeastern Underdeck on the project. It took a strong team effort, creativity and innovation to design and install the components in a way that did not block the view. First, a pressure-treated engineered beam was installed to support the new wooden deck with its Chippendale handrails, custom corbels and diagonal decking. Below, Southeastern Underdeck installed an under-deck system made of custom aluminum panels to protect the homeowners from weather on the ground level. To complete the project, we added stacked stonework at the steps, LED lighting and a two-color paint scheme for the deck and rails. The lower level features a clear span design with only four columns supporting the upper deck. This creative engineering maintained the clear view of the landscape.”

National CotY Winner for Green Residential Exteriors, Atlanta, GA (Buckhead neighborhood)

“The couple who lives in this Buckhead home had the house custom-built and the grounds professionally landscaped, but for some reason, the back deck was too small and didn’t span the home. It almost looked like it was added as an afterthought,” said Pologruto. “The homeowners asked my team and me to design a low-maintenance deck to provide easy access to the backyard with a wide, sweeping view. To avoid installing railings across the entire back of the deck, we designed a grand, 28-foot-wide staircase that gently descends to a landing before reaching the ground. The deck features gray birch composite decking placed at a diagonal with a picture frame border and open, fortress iron handrails. Additional green solutions include LED lighting and PVC white trim at the perimeter of the deck. Where the old deck made you feel cramped and confined, this new outdoor deck and grand staircase are gracious and open. They are a perfect match for the beautiful home and meticulous landscape.”

About Decks & More

Decks & More is a metro Atlanta-based remodeling company founded in 2001 by Frank Pologruto. The award-winning business specializes in creating outdoor living spaces, home additions, porches, decks and patios, as well as remodeled bathrooms and basements. Pologruto, who learned the remodeling business first-hand from his father and uncle prior to his formal training during his tenure with the U.S. Army, leads a team of skilled craftsmen and uses only the highest quality materials in each of his firm’s remodeling projects.

Decks & More has earned over 100 prestigious awards and accolades and is the most award-winning deck contractor in the metro Atlanta area. Among the honors are National Contractor of the Year Awards from NARI (National Association for the Remodeling Industry), a Best Wood Deck Award from the North American Deck and Railing Association, a Super Service Award from Angie’s List, Consumer’s Choice Award in the category of Patio and Deck Builders and numerous local remodeling awards. Decks and More is a member of NARI and a charter member of the North American Deck and Railing Association. www.decksandmore.biz.

How “The Floor is Lava” and other adventures in the office have improved business relationships  during the pandemic.

By: Heather A. Marchand

Are you working harder than ever? I don’t know about you, but I am. 

I’ve got 4 new co-workers at my home office. They are loud, they are demanding, they interrupt my meetings, they run around my desk yelling at me that “the floor is lava!”, they are all under the age of 7. And you know what? My colleagues and industry friends love it. 

It makes me human. And we can all relate to being human. Am I right?

The demands of work and family life are HARD. Let’s all be real with each other for a moment. Here are the expectations of our current circumstances: 

  1. Work 50 hours a week. Check.
  2. Disinfect the house. Check.
  3. Homeschool. Check. 
  4. Go on a nature walk. Check. 
  5. Cook for your family. Check. 
  6. Maintain Sanity. Check. 
  7. Don’t consume too much alcohol. Check. 
  8. Don’t mess up your relationship. Check. 
  9. Look half decent for zoom meetings. Check. 
  10. Sanitize groceries. Check. 

Ok. So I lied about #2, #4, and absolutely, hands down, I lied about #7. Oh, and #10 is not happening. 

I was in a zoom meeting last week. 4 attendees. It went something like this:

Attendee #1: Sounds like a dog howling in the background. Turns out it was his 3 year old. He smiled, excused himself and returned with his son on his lap. 

Attendee #3: Dog went bonkers as the mailman delivered the mail. 

Attendee #4 (me): Dog barked, 2 of the 4 kids were yelling outside my office window. 3rd kid was banging on the door to come inside. Husband didn’t realize I was on a conference call and exclaimed he was losing his mind. 

I’m not making this up. 

This is our world right now. And you know what? We all smiled. We laughed. We appreciated the realness of this experience. This is our life, and it is a beautiful, wonderful mess. 

You can choose to focus on the negative. Or you can embrace your circumstances and make the best of it. 

I choose to embrace it. I have had the BEST conversations with members over the last several weeks. We are taking time to reach out. To connect. To share stories and experiences. It’s not rocket science. It’s just life. And we have found a way to connect to one another, let our guard down and just be freakin human. 

Be proud of your accomplishments. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Don’t pretend you have everything together. You don’t… and chances are, you’ll make the person on the other end of the line feel better if you admit it. 

There is a time for professionalism and the realness of this lockdown & social distancing doesn’t omit the professional aspect of business… but it will bring you closer to your audience. 

You’re doing a fantastic job. I see your posts. I see your hard work. I see you marching on and doing the best you can. You’re going to come out of this stronger than you were before this all happened. You’re redefining your work experience for your employees. Some of you are finding ways to re-open while now allowing employees to work from home more. You’ve discovered that productivity has improved. You’re expanding your online meetings, saving money by limiting travel, moving monies to online initiatives. Contractors are figuring out how to get bids done via FaceTime and technology. You’re working smarter with your local home inspector. Home inspectors are learning to inspect from a distance using photos, videos and live video conference calls. This is a big deal, guys! Look at what you are accomplishing! 

We promised you a few marketing graphics this week that you can add to your arsenal. You’re welcome to customize, add your own logo, copy it – own it. It’s yours. Register here to access the graphics. They are free and yours to use however you would like, even if it’s just to inspire you to create new content for your social channels.

In my next issue, I plan to start sharing some marketing tools and resources for you to utilize. I’ll be talking about the tools I have come to love and cannot wait to share them with you! 

If you’re a marketing pro, or have something to share with our members, feel free to write to me at Heather@NADRA.org. We would love to share your story and tips with our audience. 

Wishing you plenty of sunshine,

Heather

NADRA Rocks!

Heather A. Marchand
Director of National Programs & Marketing
Direct: 215.317.2018
www.NADRA.org 

PS: If you'd like to connect with me, you can find me on Instagram at @SunshineandSaltwaterMom. I look forward to following you back! 

Montgomery County’s Department of Permitting Services to Celebrate May as ‘Building Safety Month’ with Series of Events Including Free Residential Deck Inspections

Montgomery County’s Department of Permitting Services (DPS) will join in the celebration of the 40th Annual “Building Safety Month” with a series of activities including free inspections of residential decks. The theme of this year’s worldwide safety campaign is “Safer Buildings, Safer Communities, Safer World.”

The theme highlights the importance of building codes for providing a strong and resilient-built environment, and regularly updated codes that ensure that communities are protected in the face of disasters.
Although residents are under restrictions for group gatherings, even in private settings, during the COVID-19 health crisis, it is anticipated that future improving conditions will lead to social gatherings—including those on residential decks. Last year, there were two reported collapses in Montgomery County—making the free DPS deck inspection program even more critical.

Residents can call 311 or 240-777-0311 to find out more information about the deck inspection program and to schedule an appointment.  
“As the new director for Permitting Services, I am excited to highlight on how DPS works to keep our communities safe,” said Mitra Pedoeem. “The DPS ‘Check Your Deck’ program has been a staple of the celebration of Building Safety Month. Even though we are working within the protocols necessitated by the health crisis, DPS will be able to offer residents free deck inspections again this May. We hope many residents take advantage of this program to ensure that their families and guests will be safe.”
This year’s Building Safety Month includes four weekly themes and DPS has webinars planned corresponding to each. The schedule:

  • May 1-10: Disaster Preparedness. DPS will host a webinar on how to make sure structures are safe. This will include a “Check Your Deck” webinar.
  • May 11-17: Water Safety. DPS will emphasize programs that help keep the water and environment clean. There will be a Clean Water webinar.
  • May 18-24: Resiliency. Sustainability. Innovation. DPS will focus on innovations and Green Building codes through a webinar.
  • May 25-31: Training the Next Generation. Students from Thomas Edison High School in Wheaton will be featured in a webinar on how to get young residents involved in building a cleaner and safer future.

For actual times of webinars, visit the DPS web page at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dps/

Building Safety Month will allow DPS to highlight its availability to homeowners and businesses, even during the health crisis. The department continues to perform key inspections, reviews, issuance of certificates and processing of licenses and permits. 

During the health crisis, DPS has been adapting and modifying its business processes to provide a broad range of uninterrupted services to help businesses operate if they were not under restrictions.

# # #

Release ID: 20-233
Media Contact: Jessica Fusillo 240-401-6570

A Simple Recipe for Contractors Part Three:

Leveraging Your Photos, By: Bobby Parks

Photos are your visual resume that illustrates your capabilities as a builder and shows your style and creativity through a recorded image history. You’re often being accepted or rejected before you even know you’re being checked out when your website is visited as potential customers are making judgements about you based on the photos they see. The old saying that a photo is worth a thousand words is true as images provide a stronger communication than any words can ever accomplish. Confidence in your ability to deliver the kind of project they want or whether your style is right for a particular prospect is at play. Photos can provide a major layer of credibility and are one of the most impactful sales tools at your disposal making them a key ingredient in the recipe.

Although most contractors use photos,  many don’t incorporate the measures that it takes to fully capitalize on them. Many use unedited photos on cell phones in a disorganized and limited way. Some don’t focus on getting good initial shots or don’t take any at all. Just think about the time and effort you put into marketing, selling, designing, planning, permitting, mobilizing, and physically delivering projects. Why would you not take time to circle back and take pictures of the impressive projects you build and leverage them? Why not take a few simple steps and invest in the appropriate tools to maximize the impact multiple uses can provide? 

In the first two segments of this series (Part 1 & Part 2) I discuss my thoughts on the importance of a contractor’s building philosophy, project delivery types, messaging, referrals, website, and social media. In this third segment I’ll share my thoughts on the importance of leveraging your photos.  

Taking the Photos

You don’t need to use a professional to get good shots. Most will use a phone or iPad which simplifies the process. I still like using a camera and I take shots with the settings on “Auto” and the inner menu set on “RAW”. This allows for easy editing later. Just use common sense. Little things like a ladder leaning against the wall, an extension cord laying on the deck, footprints, or even leaves on the deck become magnified clutter when viewing the photo. Get clean shots and take plenty of them. Drone shots are great as you can pick up the overview angles that truly show the design.

How You Display? Pictures Matters

It’s not only important to take and use photos, it’s also important how you display them to potential customers. Many contractors use photos during a sales call but some don’t utilize them to the extent they should. For example: Showing unedited photos on a cell phone is not the way to do it. Flipping around trying to flash photos on a small screen in front of a customer is not likely to impress them. The images are small and don’t make the impressions that an iPad or larger views are going to provide. Larger views illustrate a clearer vision of what you’re about and shows off quality work much better. In my opinion an iPad may be the most crucial tool investment you make. You buy tools when they’re needed for a job. An iPad is no different and it’s a tool that quickly pays for itself. 

Another great way to show job photos is on a large monitor or television screen. This can be done if you have an office where prospects can come to you and you extend your pc screen. You can even do this at a customer’s home by plugging into their tv. Laptops can be used but iPads are lighter and quicker.

Be Organized:  Create Photo Categories

Be organized and create categories on an iPad such as decks, patios, arbors, porches, pavilions, and before & afters. If you’re delivering hardscape jobs, show patios, outdoor kitchens and fire pits. Remodelers and landscapers can show their categorized projects. If you’re discussing a particular type of project this allows you to show specific job types without bouncing around, it saves time and makes you appear more organized. It assists with a customer’s understanding of what you can do therefore helping create comfort levels and confidence in you as a contractor. 

My approach was to take a group of shots and create a customer photo file. For example, I created a “Customer John Smith Job”  which I loaded the original site photos taken on the first sales call. Once the job was completed I loaded the “after shots” in and followed up with a second file titled “Customer John Smith Selects”.  I copied the select shots that I intended to use from the original file to the select files. These were edited and used in the photo files I showed customers. This boils down what you’re showing and helps with appearing organized and being efficient when displaying what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing.  It’s creating credibility every time you show a photo. Comfort levels grow when a customer’s confidence in you begins. 

Learn Simple Editing Almost all photos need editing to pop and provide the most impact.  Even a great looking project won’t make the best impressions if it’s a dull shot. Although you could spend time learning editing software, it’s not necessary as all you’ll need can be done in 30 seconds on your phone or iPad with factory installed editing tools. I prefer a free app called Photoshop Express. In some cases as few as two edits on an iPad will do the job. For example; On an iPad or iPhone just click on the “wand” and do a color enhance increase and you’re set. In other cases you may need to lighten the shadows. These simple edits alone can make a huge difference with a photo. (See photos below) You can do other edits like merging grass into the scene and remove items if you’re willing to watch tutorials and learn. Use common sense and don’t forget to remove clutter before taking the shots.  Remember, when using a camera use the “Auto” setting with the inner menu on “RAW. These settings will allow you to do four auto edits and two manual using Photoshop Elements on your PC; you will have great results.  

Before & After minor photo edits

Color enhanced and paint-can clutter removed

Photo Galleries on Website

Having good gallery photos on a website is like using artillery to soften up the beachhead before you launch a frontal assault. Galleries soften up resistance and open the door with upfront credibility. It sets the table for the process that follows. These visuals increase the chance for success, making progress easier to obtain. Again, these should be organized into specific categories. You can even have “featured projects” where you have multiple photos of a specific job that provide a virtual tour.

Picture Videos

Picture videos are a great way to show featured projects. There are many options for easy to use software that allows you to create these one to two minute videos with added music that customers can view. For example I created a 12 minute “Before & After” video that I had the customer watch while I was gathering site information on my first appointment. It kept them in the process while I was outside for the 10 minutes it took to get site information. I did short picture videos to provide a tour of featured projects. These can be posted on your website, YouTube, social media, and emailed to prospects.

Before & After Photos

Before and after shots may be the most effective photos you’ll use. They show your ability to be creative and make an existing situation better. They show how dramatic a change can be and allows a prospect to realize how much difference the right investment can make. 

Photos show before and after and how
dramatic a change can be.

 Photos shows before and after and how dramatic a change can be

Send Before & Afters and Gallery Photos to Customers After Job Completions

Sometimes we start late, the job takes longer than expected, or there’s a problem during the job delivery that we have to recover from. Even if a job starts and finishes on time some customers handle the intrusion aspects differently and may be stressed over the process.  Emailing a visual reminder using before and after photos along with the equivalent of featured project gallery photos to a customer is like medicine that helps the pain go away. It is a dramatic reminder of the positive changes that you’ve delivered, and lessens the effect of most issues that occurred.  Ideally your logo should be on each photo. When photos are shared with customers, work associates, family and friends, through social media, it is clear who is responsible for the work. 

Brochures

Brochures are still a useful tool that photos factor into. These can be left behind after a sales call,  emailed, or accessed through a web link on your website. It’s especially useful when you’re meeting with only one of the decision makers and you don’t want to be confused with others the prospect is meeting with. It’s a simple piece that can be shared with anyone else involved in the decision and helps keep you from being mixed up with anyone else they are getting proposals from. 

Photos show a brochure from my former company

Leveraging Your Photos May Allow You to Charge More

Photos should be utilized on websites, during  sales and consulting sessions, marketing pieces,  brochures, and in follow up communications with customers. They not only open the door to new and often unknown prospects, but assist with sales and business stability and even allow many an opportunity for increased profit. For example; If you are currently having success selling jobs by showing unedited photos on a phone and begin to organize edited versions on an iPad, you can likely start charging 5% more right away because the impressions and confidence this generates can make a huge difference in a customers perception. Your iPad investment will be covered by the increased sales price. 

Adding 5% -10% and selling a job that previously priced out $20,000 project for $21,000 to $22,000 is not a big stretch when a contractor stacks the right layers of credibility in their favor. There is the risk factor for a customer anytime they choose a contractor. If you are perceived with confidence and create strong impressions along with a perceived low or no risk factor because of the credibility you’ve displayed through photos and other means, most you will be able to charge more. 

Operating in Difficult Times

In this series I discuss several key recipe ingredients that work together to create the layers of credibility to provide major benefits for any contractor. All are important. My original decisions on my project delivery types and the way I leveraged off of photos were two of the main aspects that allowed me to accomplish what I did during my years as a contractor. These approaches still apply today. Even during the recession from 2007-2009 I was able to operate and survive a prolonged and challenging period because of the recipe I used. The simple formula provided a solid foundation and ability to survive tough times when others didn’t. We are currently experiencing trying and uncertain times due to the Coronavirus. We will eventually get past this period but some changes will occur. Some things will never be the same because we’ve seen first hand how a contagion can impact an economy. Because it’s happened we can’t help but wonder when will it happen again? I hope and believe this next recovery will be  quicker because the previous underlying fundamentals of the economy are different compared to 2007 and outside this COVID -19 most want to resume where we left off. But the recovery will take a while for some segments and we will likely make changes in the ways we operate. Operating from a simple solid foundation founded by simple recipes as I share, provide a way to maximize profit during a good market, and puts you in a position to survive downturns in a healthier way when they do occur. I hope that there’s something in this series that you’ll find useful and that we’ll all get back on track with our personal and work lives soon. 

Bobby Parks / Instagram: @Bobbyparks007

Copyright Bobby Parks – April 8th, 2020

A Simple Recipe For Contractors Part Two:

Referrals, Websites, and Social Media, By: Bobby Parks

In part one  of “A Recipe For Contractors” I shared views on the importance of a contractor’s building philosophy, choice of project deliveries, and messaging.  In this second segment, I’ll share my thoughts on additional ingredients with referrals, websites, and social media. It’s a combination of what I did as a former contractor and what I’d be doing in today’s market.

Prior to entering the business I had no sales or marketing experience, but yet I was able to sell and build a lot of projects with an emphasis on margin growth versus traditional production growth. It involved an effort of maintaining an awareness of what was going on in my market, but also what was not being done and where I could gain an edge. It was an effort to help set the trend instead of following it. For me, it was about laying simple but effective groundwork and creating the layers of credibility with a business recipe that allowed for success. This included implementing a strategy that provided leads through a combination of a website, referrals, and later utilizing social media. 

Leads Equal Opportunity 

The upside potential for contractors is directly affected by leads generated, the profit contained in each job, and production capability. The better the lead, the better the opportunity.  It’s also a numbers game involving a balance of quantity and quality of leads along with closing ratios. Although some brag about high closing ratios, for design-build contractors this can be a bad thing in that you’re likely leaving money on the table. It also comes down to production as most contractors have a certain “buildout capacity” that’s based on their labor availability. No matter how much they sell they can only deliver so many jobs in a year’s time. Depending on how well these projects are priced from a profitability aspect determines how well they do each year. Some stay busy, some make wages, and some are operating profitable businesses. 

Referrals, Website, or Social Media?

When it comes to customer leads and jobs sold, what is your best source? Website, social media, referrals, or another source? Of the first three, referrals are typically the best quality because they’re coming from someone that you’ve already satisfied that provides an actual testimonial referral to a friend or coworker. The fact that you’ve proven yourself to this past customer means this referral carries more weight than any other source. This provides you credibility going in and lowers the sales resistance walls that most prospects have. It also raises the prospects confidence level in you earlier in the game. To an extent it can lessen the depth of this potential customer’s due diligence efforts if they trust the person that referred you as they consider part of that process already completed. On occasion you may be their only proposal. The closing ratio is generally higher so from a lead quality aspect, all of us prefer good referrals over any other lead type.

Good and Bad Referrals

The good referrals come from past customers that you charged in a way that provided good profit margins. These customers communicate to the new prospect that although they paid a premium they consider it a sound value investment. They verify that the quality of the project and the delivery experience made it worth the price. This new prospect understands they’re going to have to pay so they’re not expecting any type of discounted deal therefore allowing you the potential profits you should be striving for.  

The bad referrals come from those where you lowballed a price and profit was limited. Some contractors who count on referrals only may have several quotes out there and they need a job to move to. They have to keep people busy and cash flowing. In order to assure they’re not going to come to a stop they contact the prospects with quotes and offer a discounted deal. This means that not only will you not be profitable on this project but the referrals that come from this customer won’t allow for good profit as well. If this  customer refers you they’re likely to communicate that the contractor works cheap and they should call them. This new prospect expects a deal same as the first so there’s no upside potential for profit. It’s another job you have to give a deal on and the process repeats itself. 

Referrals Only Can Limit Upside Potential 

Even with good referrals your companies profits can be limited if you work off “referrals only”.

On average, most organized contracting businesses that produce significant volume get 30% of their leads and jobs from referrals. This means that 70% of the leads and jobs come from other sources most of which are website or internet based. It also means that those working off referrals only are working off a fraction of the lead and quote opportunities compared to those with effective websites and internet presence. Because the ones with websites have this lead surplus they can afford to quote at higher margins and work off a lower sales closing ratio compared to the referral only leads. If you’re running referrals only you have to have a higher closing ratio as opportunities are limited by two thirds or more. Because the opportunities are limited the built in margin is likely to be lower.

The effectiveness of referrals can depend on the types of projects you deliver. For example as discussed in “Part One” your building philosophy regarding the kinds of jobs you’re known for factors in. If they’re lower end wood deck jobs that have weathered, your effective referral rate weathers with them. Whereas higher end projects with better performing materials that stand the test of time allow for longer referrals periods. 

Of course there is an argument over quality versus quantity which applies here but counting on the phone to ring and run a business by “word of mouth” from referrals creates an unpredictable aspect of reliable leads. No doubt many operate this way and many “stay busy” while some actually hit good profit numbers. A lot depends on your desired volume and the amount of buildout capacity you have.

Website Provides More Opportunities 

A website is the gateway and billboard for a company that communicates what you do and the types of projects you deliver. It’s your online headquarters that allows a display and communications of everything your company is about.  If done properly it establishes a strong layer of credibility prior to having contact with a prospect. Because online searches have become a standard process for today’s customers, without one you can be overlooked and unknown. Again, it’s a numbers game that funnels potential customers your way that far exceeds the numbers referrals only bring. 

My website for my former company focused  on two main aspects which were first impressions created by photos and simple messaging. The interior behind the scenes aspect was on optimization. It’s kind of like looking at a sleek looking race car. As good as it looks it’s what’s under the hood that makes it competitive. So regardless of your company size its important that most invest in one and that you use a professional to build and manage it.  You’ll compete with others that do so to try and go cheap or manage this yourself will likely result in an ineffective site that won’t have potential to accomplish the objectives. 

I Stay Busy and Don’t Need a Website

In my opinion many contractors that “stay busy” and don’t see the need to have a website are missing out. Why not provide yourself more leads that allow you to quote at higher prices? Why not add the layers of credibility that separate you from others? When you’re quoting from word of mouth only,  you have to be careful with the price tag as you could exhaust all opportunities and not have enough work on the board. If you have a surplus of leads that allows you to add to the price tag you have a better chance of filling up your job schedule with more profitable jobs. Because you couldn’t build out everything you quote, you can afford to take 2 out of 10 or less compared to having to hit one or two out of three from referrals. It more than covers your website investment as well as adding to your annual earnings. It does require an efficiency in terms of creating quotes which I’ll cover in a future piece.  

There are always exceptions and it is true for some that realize their value, charge good margins and fill their job board with profitable jobs. But in many cases this approach imposes a limitation on upside potential. There’s also the time aspect of being able to run more leads and provide proposals. If you’re working within the crew every day, how do you find time to do both? I’ll cover this in more depth in another piece but a lot has to do with creating a quick quote system so you avoid doing takeoffs to quote every job. It requires models for expedited pricing that allows you to do several quotes in the same time period it may take to do one. This is a necessity to operate efficiently. 

Social Media

Although FB and Instagram can produce leads and can show up in searches, in my opinion these serve more as an expanded internet presence providing social media content and secondary branding purposes. They work in conjunction with a website which is the foundation and mothership for localized leads and prospects. Social media is an enhancement tool and pathway to a site and not the same as having a truly optimized website that shows up in local searches that displays your work and messaging. It’s more likely your peers and followers who are spread out across the rest of the world will see you on the social media platforms but it’s the website that provides you a set up that communicates with local prospects. It’s where your messaging and galleries are.  FB and IG can produce feathers in your cap and add another layer of credibility. It’s a way to directly communicate with others but at the end of the day it’s the prospects in your market that you must connect with and illustrate what your company is about.  

Many businesses such as millworks, subcontractors, and other trades can be connected with builders and remodelers as FB and IG serve as a networking portal. It’s an advertising platform within the building community. It’s like a national builders show compared to a local home show. For the most part they have different audiences. I’m sure some do obtain work through these outlets but counting on social media alone is likely to limit the upside potential. To grow and be selective with jobs and attach a premium price tag, the percentages are going to favor a website.

Work With a Blended Approach

There are exceptions for every aspect here. Some contractors can hit their numbers and maximize profit off referrals only. Some may actually do the same with only a social media presence. A lot depends on the volume required and an individual’s effort in each area,  but in most cases these two aspects alone won’t provide the necessary upside opportunities. Neither replaces an effective website that allows for a better sharing of messaging and photos with local search advantages. Even if you’re a one crew operation with limited buildout capacity you can benefit. It’s not about selling more but more about filling up your job board with more profitable jobs and providing the necessary opportunities to accomplish this. It’s about not operating on hope and prayer. Most will benefit from a balanced three pronged strategy because one day the referral leads that have always seemed to arrive in time to keep you busy may slow to a point that even staying busy is a challenge. Having this balanced plan will produce more opportunities with better predictability providing for a smoother operation and better profits. It’s an investment that some may believe they can’t afford but I would argue you can’t afford not to. It’s an investment in your business and should be part of the plan. For me it was a key ingredient of my recipe. 

Bobby Parks / Instagram: @Bobbyparks007

Copyright Bobby Parks – March 11th, 2020


Question & Answer with NADRA.org

An on-going series of inquiries from consumers & industry professionals sent to Info@NADRA.org.

Question #1:

“I am planning a deck on the back of my home. I am wondering if I am missing something. 

I want to use 6×6 post and notch them for my beam and rim joist as one, then just carry it up to be my hand rail posts also. Other than maybe cost and the extra work of dealing with the heavier pieces this seems like the way to go but I don’t see anyone doing it. Am I missing something as a non professional as to why this would not work?

Other details: Deck height on one end will reach 36 inches. Total deck size will be about 24 feet along the house and a max of 12 feet out away from the house.”

Answer provided by Glenn Mathewson, NADRA Technical Advisor:

Thank you for reaching out to us for assistance.  The NADRA membership supports the organization to offer commentary to those seeking a better understanding of the deck and railing industry.  The International Residential Code (IRC) is a model code developed by the International Code Council.  Government authorities very often reference this document for the regulation of single family homes, but they often make amendments to change the rules.  The guidance herein is only in regard to the unamended model code, as we are unaware of your locally adopted building code.  The subject of guards may or may not be amended.  have reached out to our advisors to provide you assistance.

What you are proposing is not unusual in anyway and can produce a very sound and beautiful deck and guard.  Being a technical subject, it is important we clarify that you are referring to “guards” and not “handrails”.  Handrails are only the graspable rail found beside stairs and ramps to assist in ascending and descending.  A guard is a feature at the edge of an elevated walking surface meant reduce the likelihood of a fall off the edge.  Presuming you are speaking of a guard, we will continue.

According to the 2018 IRC, guards must be designed to resist a 200 lb load placed at the top of the guard, currently in any direction.  To achieve this design load through testing, an ultimate strength of no less than 2.5 x the load must be resisted.  This is a 500 lb test load.  Research has been done on this load for guard post connections and found that a 4×4 post could not be notched at the point of connection.  No testing occurred on a 6×6.  In the development of the next edition of the IRC, the 2021, much discussion was made by industry professionals on the subject of notched guard posts.  A proposal was submitted and approved for this code, based on the research and engineering analysis, that prohibits the notching of 4×4 posts.  In the discussion for this proposal, 6×6 posts were brought up.  When notched to retain at least 3.5 inches of material in the “flange” it was agreed that notching a 6×6 should not be prohibited by code at this time and without further research.  No code provisions were approved with relation to 6×6 posts.

In the absence of prescriptive design methods or provisions provided by the code, a design professional is necessary to validate structural performance. Therefore, we cannot provide you any definitive answer, as there is not yet an established accepted and generic practice to notching 6×6 guard posts. We can tell you that it can be achieved sufficiently, and is a design seen in the industry.  Here are some things to consider as you make your decision:

  • 1) Determine if there are local design standards required by your local building department.
  • 2) Discuss the design with your local building department.
  • 3) The design of your guard assembly as a whole can have an impact on the load resistance the post to beam connection must resist.  Evaluate this.
  • 4) Notching of material must be done with consideration to any knots, wane, or damage to the member near and at the notch location.
  • 5) Do not overcut your notches with a circular saw, as this equates to a deeper notch.
  • 6) If it is preservative treated lumber, you need to field treat the inside of the notch.  If cedar, you do not.
  • 7) At a minimum, do not leave less than 3.5 inches of material remaining in the untouched portion.

We hope this information will be helpful to you in your project.

Home Show Season is Here. Are You Ready?

Tips from NADRA.org

March is right around the corner, and that means we’re entering “Home Show Season”. It’s the end of the winter, the early customers are calling and inquiring. Now is our last chance to button-up any policies, procedures, and give our companies one last “spring cleaning” before the rush!

Home Show Tips:

  1. Market the event ahead of time. Ask your family, friends and fans to share a post about the show. It’s human nature to want to help. Your family and friends will want to share your post and tell people about it! If you’re feeling shy about it, offer a free prize to a random fan that shares your post. That way everyone wins!
  2. Pull the crowd into your booth. Try something interactive: Corn hole, giant size connect 4 or jenga.
  3. Two things everyone has a hard time saying “no” to! Hand Sanitizer and Candy. Do yourself a favor and stock up!
  4. Collect Potential Customer Contact information. Grab a fish bowl, use an app, anything! Have your prospects fill out their info and be sure to get permission to contact them. Run a content to entice them to fill it out. Simple ideas might be: $100 gift card to a local pub, Target or big box store gift card, maybe a free lighting package to name a few. Just make sure to give them reason to pass along their contact info.
  5. Ask the crowd to pull out their phones, bring up your social media platforms and follow you. Reward them with some branded promotional merchandise. Who says no to a free Tshirt, stickers, sunglasses or Trucker hat?
  6. Guys. C’mon. Put the phone down! Stand tall, shoulders back, make eye contact and be present. Greet your potential customers. Smile.
  7. Avoid clustering together and having staff discussions. Don’t turn your back to the walk ways. Look approachable.
  8. Wear comfortable shoes!
  9. Don’t dilly dally when it comes to follow up. Follow up right away. Most people can’t remember what they ate for breakfast yesterday! Don’t wait too long before following up. Make it a priority.

Good luck at the show. Be sure to post photos and if you’re feeling up to it, tag your friends at @NADRARocks, or at least use the #NADRARocks hashtag so we can find your home show photos!

Preparing for the busy season ahead. A few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is there any last-minute education to wrap up?
  2. Are all of our vendor agreements in place?
  3. Are your trucks and trailers lettered and in good shape?
  4. Are you displaying the NADRA logo and pledge on your marketing materials? (stand out from the competition!)
  5. Are your business cards printed with updated industry certifications and social media information? Do you have any awards to add to these?
  6. Are you utilizing NADRA’s Deck Safety Month® Marketing Tools?
  7. Do you have marketing pieces ready?
  8. Job site signs in good shape?
  9. Crew T-shirts and hats stocked?
  10. Do you have a good camera for your before and after pictures? Or is this the year to consider adding a drone?
  11. How is the website, email signature, and voicemail greetings?

If you don’t have these things ready, you have time, but that time is now! Go get it done. You’ll feel better prepared, and at the end of the day, you’ll know you did everything you could to be ready for the season.If you’re wondering where to get the best job-site signs, or you’re not sure where to order your T-shirts, don’t forget to reach out to your fellow NADRA members to ask. That’s what we are here for! Ask away. Use NADRA’s social media platforms to ask questions, hop on LinkedIn to start a discussion, Tweet! Instagram seems to be the most active these days. @NADRARocks. Use whatever platform makes it easy for you to ask your question. It’s human nature to want to help. Someone will answer you. Use your NADRA network to better your business. We are here for you. Your NADRA Board of Directors, and Home Office staff are here to help. Feel free to call or email any of us, if we can assist in any way.

We will have more tips coming your way in future issues of your industry brief.

Sincerely,

Your friends at NADRA

Are You Charging Enough for Deck Features?

By Bobby Parks

Today’s Outdoor Living Contractors

In today’s deck building market, radiuses, borders, inlays, outdoor lighting, and mitered stair tread details have become the trend.  I have friends that deliver amazing award-winning creations utilizing some or all these elements and most have figured out not only an efficient way to deliver these options, but also how to price them. I know from price tags I’ve seen on jobs and through conversations as I travel around the country that some could be charging more than they are for their projects and especially upgrade features. These operators are producing impressive work, but at compromised prices. In a best case scenario, this limits their profitability. In a worse case scenario, this weakens their financial health and lessens their chance of riding out the next economic downturn as there’s likely no buildup of reserves!

Reasons for Underpricing 

Many deck builders begin businesses with stronger building skills than sales abilities. While most  develop the balance with both, some don’t and often provide quotes without proper presentation or follow up which can handicap margin. They can sell jobs as long as the price is “low enough” but for varying reasons, they struggle to sell at needed margins. 

Underpricing or selling at minimal margins is often a result of one of the following: Not understanding the real cost of delivery. Not understanding the cost of overhead. Undervaluing ones worth. Underdeveloped people skills and sales ability. 

Generally, it  occurs with newer contractors that are trying to establish themselves, but lack confidence in their ability to sell or in the value of what they offer. It also occurs with many who worked as subcontractors that have not fully understood retail pricing or struggle to mentally overcome the “cost” aspect when quoting a customer. It even happens with veteran operators who undervalue their worth and lack the development of confidence to mentally overcome price. 

Motivation, ambition, and what’s considered as satisfactory profitability varies with contractors. At the end of the day it’s what you are satisfied with that matters. I’ve met with contractors that weren’t charging enough for basic jobs and I’ve met with some who charge appropriately for most jobs but don’t charge enough for added features.  Let’s touch on some of these.

Radiuses Are Premium Features with Premium Price Tags

Radius decks provide a great look and delivering them can separate you from competition as you’re offering options that many don’t. But as good as they look on website galleries and social media, it’s only a good option if they’re profitable deliveries. The process for layout, framing, jigs, material, heating and bending borders, and taping takes extra time and requires an investment in equipment. From a sales and production standpoint you’ll spend more time on the site compared to simpler designs, so the project should be priced to produce comparable margins as other jobs from a production aspect.  Giving a deal on the first couple of jobs to create projects to leverage off of makes sense, but otherwise these works of art are opportunities for added profit. 

Mitered Stair Detail Feature Options

Stairs are a necessity for function and can be a “feature” as well. When I built in Georgia most deck projects averaged being at 10’-12’ elevations with 15 or more treads a common occurrence.  Often a landing to redirect the stairs was needed, so by the time railing and lighting were added in, this was a pricey component costing the customer several thousand dollars before the deck dollars even factored in. This left less in the budget to create the usable space, so I kept it simple with stair systems that included riser boards, stair treads, and continuous pvc side skirt trim but not mitered surrounds. It was a clean and functional finish but not a “feature”. If I were operating today, I’d give the customer a choice for more deck space with “nice stairs”, or less deck space with really nice stairs”.

I discuss stairs here as I do for three reasons. One I know from conversations that some have been charging for custom treads similar to what I was charging for my standard ones five years ago. Secondly if the stringers are not stiffened and the treads not installed correctly, potential issues may show up as stairs are tested every time someone walks them.  The push off when weight is applied traveling upstairs and the downward impact pressures on tread nosings walking down is different than typical deck surface travel and can rock the miters over time. You must think about what these will look like 5-10 years down the road and not just for your one, three, or five 5-year warranty. And third, if flat blocking is used and not taped there’s potential for rot issues as well as framing swell which can open up the joints. So, if you’re installing them, take appropriate measures to ensure they’ll hold up and price accordingly. 

Lighting Features 

 Because code requires stairs to be lit in some fashion, I always had a standard lighting package priced in and offered the customer an option to add more for the deck. I know some contractors that throw in a lighting package as a “special offer” effort to help sell the job. If you have priced the project where you believe you can absorb this without affecting your real desired margins or you’re willing to take a hit on some jobs, then I see the rationale. I realize some basic packages can be done at a low cost, but in my opinion, contractors should see “lighting” as an opportunity to add to profits, and not provide for free. Why give something away that most will pay for and that could potentially create callbacks? 

Price it so the Customer Pays Now and You Don’t Pay Later

I’ve learned from over 30 years as a builder that products don’t always perform as advertised. Wood rots, fasteners corrode, and manufactured products can fail. Years fly by and not everything stands the test of time. Incorporating high building standards with pricing that guard against problems is a good approach. Taping pressure treated lumber in certain applications is a good example. But charge for your work and educate the customer why it’s a good idea to do it. If you’re going to experience rot, it’s likely to show up on cut stair stringers, planed down joists, and flat blocking areas used for inlays and borders, so taping is a wise investment. Even if your structural warranty has expired, your reputation can still be harmed with wood or product failures. And if you didn’t follow exact installation guidelines and set the customer up to be “in compliance” and a failure occurs as a result, regardless of your warranty; you may very well be liable. 

In Summary

So, understand my efforts here are not to offend anyone because of how they operate. I know some markets are more challenging than others and there are always low-ball contractors that factor in. The points I’m trying to make are: Value your gifted abilities and worth and charge accordingly. Have confidence in what you do and require customers to pay for the skill you bring to the table and the art you create when it comes to upgrades or don’t do them. Limit the deals you give and only award that “upgrade discount card” for those rare projects where it will be worth the investment. Leverage off those jobs and off the reputation and brand you build and maintain because you possess the skill for such offerings. Create sales models and track cost of delivery so you’ll be able to accurately charge moving forward.  Give your customers options with an upgraded price tag so they see the difference and value, so you come out ahead either way. Realizing markets vary most can charge their worth. It’s a builder’s market in most regions and if you’re a quality operator, you are in the driver’s seat. And although profit margins vary slightly from job to job when job-costing is done what’s important is that it averages out at the end of the year. 

Selling jobs at the right price will always be challenging and requires several aspects working together.

The key is to separate yourself from others by creating layers of credibility. Gain confidence in who you are and what you offer along with generating the right kind of leads that provide the opportunities needed to hit your numbers. There are ways to position your company to increase success in sales and increased margins and I’ll share my thoughts on that in upcoming pieces. 

Bobby Parks / Instagram: @Bobbyparks007

Copyright February 12th, 2020 – Bobby Parks