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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The Importance of Emotional Subtlety


July 20, 2011 | A few days ago I was consulting by phone with a BroadsOnBusiness.com member.

A husband and wife run a roofing business. After the last “meeting,” they had sent me examples of their direct mail pieces. It was left to me to tell them gently that these pieces screamed. Fortunately, they took it very well. The husband told me that the reason they sent me their materials to critique in the first place was that they suspected they weren’t nearly so professional as they could be.

One of my observations was that they said every single thing they did on every single mailing, which I stated was telling too much at one time (in one place) and creating confusion. If someone sees how many services you provide, what’s to stop them from worrying about where you’re more or less expert?

Certainly it’s important for your clients to know everything you do, but that’s over a period of time, not shouted out during first or early encounters. In this case it was rather obvious why the mailings were missing the mark.

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