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

Oh, no!

“Oh no, no, please God help me!”

June 18, 2012 | From the Black Sabbath song….and contractors who encounter the evil nasty customer who will never go away and refuses to pay you until hell freezes over and you perform a miracle. “Just one more thing” and “you said you were going to….” and my favorite “this is just not what I expected when I hired you!”

Okay, so I am the man! I am the guy who takes a beating on my margin to make a customer happy. I am the guy who calls in a painter to stain lattice to make damn sure the stain is perfect so I don’t have to do it myself to get the last check. I am the guy who abuses the terms “yes ma’am” and “Whatever you need sir” I am the sucker who gets abuse from the evil nasty once a year customer. I…am the man!

So back to the annual freak!  Before, when I got home from one of these encounters I usually drank….a lot! Then I wondered what went wrong. Usually there is a flashback to the first meeting where the prospect said “I am warning you, I am picky.” At that point, like many of you, I thought…. I am a deck builder, I can handle picky. But what do you do about it? Most deck builders would shrug this statement off and move to the close. Some would have flashbacks and ease their way out of the house. A few would bump the price a few points knowing it’s going cost them later. Here’s how I beat the nasty!

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Contracts and Building Permits

 by: John Paulin of Tailor Decks, Inc.

June 18, 2012 | I have been building decks in Atlanta for more than 20 years and have seen so many changes over the years.  I can’t imagine starting my business today in this industry with all the changes and demands.  It use to be so simple.  No one was getting building permits, or even thought about it. Heck, I even remember selling projects and never having contracts. Could you imagine doing that today?!

Building permits and contracts are the most important part to any successful businesses nowadays. Pulling building permits and working with inspectors can be a pain at first, but once you push through it, it becomes habit and not so bad.  I use to think contracts were insulting, and that two people should be able to work together with a hand shake.  Well, that part may be true, but that is not what a contract is about.

A contract outlines the scope of work to be performed by the contractor and what the contractor expects from the purchaser.  When I meet with the purchaser, there are so many different items discussed and so many different options, who could ever keep up with all of them?  The more descriptive the contract is, the smoother the project runs.  When a disagreement arises between the contractor and purchaser, the contract is there to fall back on.

My contract today is 8 pages long and is very descriptive. It outlines the scope of work, the payment schedule, the warranty, and discusses all unexpected items that may come up and cost involved. I have been working on my companies contract for over two years now and still adding an item here and there when something new comes up.  I don’t know if it will ever be finished.  For the first 17 years of Tailor Decks, my contract was only 1 page with an attachment which briefly described the work to be performed.

I was recently talking with some contractors that have been in the construction industry longer than I have, and they all felt the longer the contract is, the purchaser perceives the builder to be more professional.  I think this has a lot of truth to it and I may be on the right path.

What do you think? Feel free to send comments or start discussions. I would love to hear from some fellow NADRA members.

What’s The Concern?

April 24, 2012 | Why would a deck builder be so afraid of trying a new material for his next project? Isn’t being up on the latest technology a dream come true. Perhaps, but are you taking risk in the process? Some guys I know would say yes to that. They would no sooner use a new product then throw themselves off a bridge. Some I know embrace the new stuff and love it. I have been both of those guys. With a few years under my belt and input from so many of my counterparts, my stance is that I will try a new product in a limited application until some time passes and I am reassured that it will last. What about those new nifty labor warranties? I am a huge advocate for that and it does help me to decide how much if any of a new product I will sell. But let’s dive into this a little more.

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It’s your business…. Do you “Do” it?

By David Elenbaum

March 12, 2012 | What do you “do”? Do you “do” windows? Do you “do” stone work? Perhaps you “do” siding. I know that if you are reading this, it is likely that you “do” decks. I for one like to eliminate “do” from my verbiage in marketing. I say I build decks in conversation but my business card says that I am a “full service deck design and construction firm.” Why? Professionalism. I can go to any market in the US and it is likely that I can find a guy who “Does” something according to his advertising. He is also likely the guy who writes his quote on the back of a business card. If you are that guy, in your mark

Now for the matter of “doing” everything. Do you? How diverse is your product portfolio? If you find yourself running to leads that cover a large varied group of products and you are operating under a deck company you may want to consider a revision in your company story. Perhaps you would want to look at being a general contractor. In some cases, you may want to refine your offerings and focus on the things that make you the most profits. If your company “Dude’s Decks” is installing windows and siding, consider a branch off company called “Dude’s siding and windows”. Your prospects will be less confused about what you “do” and you will see better qualified leads from your advertising as a result. You can set up an advertising accrual on each business so you will know if window ad money is getting you window leads and deck ad money is getting you decking leads. Set up a separate phone number with a tracker to get the results you need.

You can still co-market the businesses together if you like but diversifying the advertising into the appropriate marketing is now an option for you. Deck buyers may be in a different demographic than window buyers for you, so the difference between a newspaper ad and a retirement magazine. On the administrative side, separating the entities will help with seeing profitability, crew allocations, and workers comp audits will be easier since a siding crew is charged at a different rate then a deck crew in many cases. Also, the really cool part is if your siding business grows well enough to sell, you can sell it and still be in the deck business. Good luck and thanks for reading. You can email thoughts and comments to davidelenbaum@gmail.com.

Ever Heard Of Him?

February 6, 2012 | That is what you are hoping the neighbors are saying about you when they show off their new deck. The concept of “Keeping up with the Jones’” is the best pipeline for leads in this business. People are proud of their home improvement projects and they like to show them off. Your hopes are that when they are showing off their latest huge investment and boasting about the latest craze in products that they got, they drop your name in the process. Referrals are bar none the least expensive and most valuable lead source in the business. They are virtually free and if it’s done right, you just have to take an order. So how do you harvest this land of milk and honey?

Start with vicious networking. Figure out ways to get in front of your customers friends and neighbors. One way might be to take a few minutes during the build and stop by the houses in the immediate area. Knock on the door, introduce yourself and let them know that your crew is the one working at that house. Show them a picture of what you are building and ask if they have any questions or comments about the workers or anything else. Remember to feel out your customer to see if things like this will be okay. Some people lead very private lives and don’t want the neighbors knowing what they are doing. Another great way to get some easy referrals from a sweet deck project is to throw a grand opening party for your customer. Ask them to invite their friends over for a show off BBQ. You can bring the provisions and run the grill for them or have it catered in. Considering the cost of around $10 a head for some hamburgers, you will get some great prospect conversations and most likely a solid lead.

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The Right To Rescind

January 29, 2012 | You worked the prospect and turned it into a quote. You worked the quote and turned it into a sale. You got a start check and ordered materials. Now the guy calls and says’s “I’ve changed my mind, I’m not doing the job, I want my money back.” Can he do that? The answer is maybe. When it comes to legal advice, an attorney is the best way to go to help shed some light on the Right of Rescission. It seems to vary a little from state to state but one thing seems common all over. The customer usually has three business days to change their mind, so if you close the sale on Thursday, they are supposed to notify you by Monday night. Some could argue that the three business days start the moment you sign, so if it is 7 PM on Thursday, then it might not be up until Tuesday night at 7PM. Ambiguity on agreements is a distracting and often costly issue for deck builders.

When writing the verbiage for your contracts make sure you include a Right of Rescission clause that has clear instructions on how to exercise the rescission. Details on how long the period lasts, what the steps are to notify, and how the repayment will take place. I like this simple statement: In the event the purchaser decides to rescind this contract, the purchaser must notify the contractor within three business days of signing the contract. Three business days commence on the next business day following the date of signing. Delivery of notification of rescission and a copy of this contract must be made in writing and delivered to the contractor’s place of business no later then 5PM on the day of the deadline. The contractor shall have three business days to return payment once rescission is properly exercised. Rescission and payment return terms may be subject to state and federal laws.

Some states allow you to add a waiver of rescission period to your contract that you can ask the customer to sign if they want to get started sooner. Also, some states do not enforce a rescission if the contract is signed in your office as opposed to their home.

As for the funds you collect at the signing, sitting on a check from a customer for up to five days waiting out the rescission period is best practice. You can’t keep any of the money for cancellation fees or anything like that unless your state law says you can. Consider holding off on ordering so you don’t get stuck with materials you don’t need. Rather then depositing the funds and using them as cash flow, spending them on something or waiting, consider a higher interest money market account. Deposit the funds and collect interest on your money until the rescission period is over and you need the funds. You will always have the funds prepared to return this way. This really pays off if you have a longer lead-time on your projects.

As a contractor, explaining the fine print is way outside of your job description. Unfortunately, as a business owner, it is necessary. Make it part of your sales pitch and get some positive reinforcement for it. I added it to mine and made the clause a discussion point in the payment and terms portion of my sales presentation. I found that having these details as part of the overall presentation made a better-informed customer and helped close deals on the professional contractor premise. You may even see a drop in rescissions if you do this. That said, if you have enough of them that you are concerned, you may need to look at more than the fine print. Good Luck and thanks for reading.

If you have subject ideas or comments, please send them to me at davidelenbaum@gmail.com.

Crew Size On The Job Site

The Perfect Crew Size by David Elenbaum

January 17, 2012 | Whatever the typical job size for a deck contractor is varies but all contractors deal with the same decision. How many guys should I send out? Running different size crews for different size jobs is usually in the cards but sometimes the workload doesn’t come in the right order. You might end up with four 16 x 20 quickie treated decks to build this week, projects that would not support a four-man crew that typically builds your porches and big composites. Four decks in a week these days is a blessing for many guys, but if it’s just you and a helper running your production, now you’re out three weeks or more. In either case depending on how much you sold those decks for, you may have a profit disaster on your hands or worse, a production disaster. I’ve always maintained that one of the best ways to sell a deck for your competition is to have too much or too little lead-time. Managing crew size and efficiency is essential to the health of your business. So what is the perfect crew size? I don’t know. What I do know is that removing yourself from the equation, the crew size that seems to work the best and be more efficient is an odd number.

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Business Tip: Accepting Change

 

 
September 12, 2011 | When it comes to running their businesses, many business owners get in their own way.

For example, they hire an assistant but don’t give the assistant anything to do. Or, the assistant suggests changes, which the business owner swore were welcome, only to be completely ignored.

It’s difficult to let go. Change is the single most threatening thing to the human being. “What if my new assistant makes a mistake?” The irony here is that we all make mistakes; somehow, however, we tolerate our own better than others’.

What could be improved in your business? Your quoting system? Returning phone calls and emails? Attending to the finishing touches on a job? Marketing more consistently? Pricing more profitably? Hiring the right people? All of the above?

I have a client who just hired a couple to organize him. They are fantastic. He’s thrilled to have them. Yet, at a meeting earlier this week, he kept saying, “I this” and “I that.” With the two others sitting there, it was “I, I, I.”

After a few minutes of this, I asked him, “What are these two doing sitting here, if you’re still taking every single thing on your own shoulders? You alone can’t get it all done; what are you doing to yourself? When are you going to include them in what you’re doing? It’s about ‘we,’ not ‘I’.” At that point he wrote ‘WE” on the page with his notes.

Control freaks bring stress upon themselves. With so many truly competent people out there, give yourself a break! By trying to save money or hoarding all the tasks for yourself, you’re giving your business no chance to grow.

It isn’t just the economy, after all.

Boston Cedar Adds Social Media Platform

July 29, 2011 | Boston Cedar is pleased to announce that the company has launched a custom social media platform. “This key initiative will continue to become an integral part of the overall marketing strategy for the company going forward” said Paul Colliton, Boston Cedar’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

For the foreseeable future, a significant number of businesses will get by just fine with simple telephone calls, emails and faxes. However with the onslaught of new social networking sites and the proliferation of “Smart Phones”, being constantly connected with new information becomes almost addictive, especially for younger adults. The very powerful and well-connected Millennial Generation likes to stay in touch and sharing information within their “community” is important in their personal and career lives. Whether it is the LBM retail store customer, the supplier helping educate an architect or the builder installing a product in the field, all parties demand immediate credible information on the given matter.

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