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?!
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:
Work 50 hours a week. Check.
Disinfect the house. Check.
Go on a nature walk. Check.
Cook for your family. Check.
Maintain Sanity. Check.
Don’t consume too much alcohol. Check.
Don’t mess up your relationship. Check.
Look half decent for zoom meetings. Check.
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.
I use gmail. If I click on my “promotions” tab, I can guarantee that 8 out of 10 promotional emails use the word “uncertain”. In fact, just for fun, I searched my email for “uncertain”. How many times do you think I found the word?
TWO HUNDRED emails used the word “uncertain” since March 2020. TWO HUNDRED!
I get it… uncertain = I am freaking out and need to find a way to leverage this disaster to sell you something you didn’t know you needed.
I admittedly made this mistake two weeks ago. I used it in a NADRA email. In my defense, we gave away something quite substantial for free. So I think I earned a free pass here. But in all seriousness, I’m not using the phrase again & you should try to avoid it too. Consumers are over it.
Here are a few words / phrases you could use instead:
My personal favorite: Dubious!
During these unprecedented times
It’s simple. When you are making sales calls and answering inquiries regarding leads… just be real.
As an association we are struggling due to most payables being put on hold. We know you are going through it too.
Don’t be cheesy. Don’t be sales-pitchy. In a world without human touch, or handshakes, no hugs, no embrace… The best thing you can do right now is to just be real.
We know we need to find the positives here & as an industry we have quite a bit to leverage during this crisis. The industry knows there is an opportunity here to promote “staycations”. Please do yourself a favor, give it some time and don’t be too aggressive. Families are hurting right now, and the last thing you want to do is have them unsubscribe from your emails or unfollow your business on social media.
Business must go on & there are ways to self-promote in a classy way. Make some calls. Check in on your past clients & prospects that didn’t close. Just be sure to be human. Be sensitive to the fact that folks are unemployed, kids are home from school, parents are losing their minds & some may have loved ones who are ill. Take your time to construct well thought-out, sensitive content for your emails, phone calls and social media campaigns. Sharing content that demonstrates how your company is giving back and supporting your local community is a great way to self-promote.
We will continue this discussion in the next brief by providing a couple instagram graphics and social media text for your use.
Have a good week, and please remember, just keep it real.
Aluminum Railing Leader is on a mission to help the Nurses and Doctors in the community.
(Delta, BC) – Regal ideas Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of Aluminum railing systems has sourced and is donating masks to frontline healthcare workers at Vancouver’s St Paul’s Hospital.
This is one shipment of many that has been hand delivered to the hospital. Regal ideas reach will expand to other hospitals and provinces in response to the growing need for masks and other personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare professionals combating COVID-19.
“We are awed and inspired by the selfless acts of courage and heroism by God’s earthly Angels as they put their lives on the line every day for all of Humanity… it compels us to act!”, states Ernie Couillard, Executive Vice President for Regal ideas Inc.
The first 200 KN95 masks were hand delivered by 9-year old Regal ideas ambassador, Mason Sekura, to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Watch Mason’s video tribute to the frontline medical teams here:
Regal ideas hope is that others take a moment and support in any way they can to help protect as many local medical teams as possible during this rapidly evolving pandemic. Regal ideas started its sourcing for personal protective equipment weeks ago and is on a mission to connect with companies and other business owners to take part in this mission. “We all have our connections, so if we all do our part, we can build a better tomorrow, today” comments Mr Couillard.
For more information contact: Andrew Pantelides Vice President of Marketing & Business Development Regal ideas Inc. Tel: 905-929-7155 Andrew@regalideas.com
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
An on-going series of inquiries from consumers & industry professionals sent to Info@NADRA.org.
“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.
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:
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!
Two things everyone has a hard time saying “no” to! Hand Sanitizer and Candy. Do yourself a favor and stock up!
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.
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?
Guys. C’mon. Put the phone down! Stand tall, shoulders back, make eye contact and be present. Greet your potential customers. Smile.
Avoid clustering together and having staff discussions. Don’t turn your back to the walk ways. Look approachable.
Wear comfortable shoes!
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:
Is there any last-minute education to wrap up?
Are all of our vendor agreements in place?
Are your trucks and trailers lettered and in good shape?
Are you displaying the NADRA logo and pledge on your marketing materials? (stand out from the competition!)
Are your business cards printed with updated industry certifications and social media information? Do you have any awards to add to these?
Are you utilizing NADRA’s Deck Safety Month® Marketing Tools?
Do you have marketing pieces ready?
Job site signs in good shape?
Crew T-shirts and hats stocked?
Do you have a good camera for your before and after pictures? Or is this the year to consider adding a drone?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every great idea, and those who will implement them, will be faced with cynics, skeptics, doubters and critics. We have all heard those famous words, “That will never work” or “I don’t know why they are trying that?” This comes with the territory of change management, promoting a different way of thinking, challenging the norm and just being excellent in your field or craft.
So shoulders back, head up and charge forward into greatness! Haters have been around since the beginning of time. I know, it feels like they have recruited, organized and gained momentum over the years. However, as true leaders, we must see these things for what they are and never let their negative energies pull us into fear, self-doubt and/or negativity.
Here’s five quick things to consider when dealing with dream-crushers:
Keep your dreams close to the vest until it’s time to spring it on them! Be careful how much you share about your intentions. This will add another layer of protection to those who will steal your idea, share your idea or begin the secret discrediting of your future plans.
Let them fuel your focus! Discipline and focus will ensure that you don’t get off-course. You must believe in yourself and your work more than your haters disbelieve. If not, they win, and you lose 100% of the time! If you get weary, refuel by visualizing that your goal has already been achieved. The euphoric sense of winning will keep you going in the tough times!
Distance yourself from negativity and find a tribe that will encourage you! Always remember that every negative and discouraging comment does not require a come back. Safeguard your sanity! Brush your shoulders off and align yourself with those who share positive thoughts and vibes. A tribe that will encourage you in good times and in bad times are worth their weight in gold.
Let them be a ridiculous source of motivation for you! Always show your grit, not your sweat or discomfort! You are keenly aware of what you can do and what needs to be done. So go for it! Make it happen! Stay hydrated and motivated until you reach your final destination!
Outsmart the naysayers and prove them wrong over and over again! They may talk louder than you or more than you, but that means nothing! A winner’s move is practiced, tested and calculated. When they go low, use what you know. There is a reason why you are on the cutting edge of something amazing. And here’s a little secret, your naysayers know it as well. That’s why they hate your idea, your passion, your purpose, your vision, your future opportunities and your potential!
Stay the course! Your haters are here to stay. Use them as a source of inspiration to take yourself, your teams and your organizations to the next level. You got this! I’ll be watching!