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Business Management Best Practices

  1. Assess yourself: Undertake a personal audit or self-assessment to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Work to your strengths and address your weaknesses – there is a great deal of help and assistance out there if you look.
  2. Surround yourself with a good team: You are responsible for producing, selling, customer care, financing, collecting bad debts, bookkeeping, etc. But it is not essential that you undertake all of these tasks unaided. It may be more cost-effective to allow professional and experienced people in particular sectors to assume some ‘chores’ with which you are not comfortable. This will you the time to undertake those tasks with which you are, paying for their work from the increased turnover you are now capable of earning.
  3. Assess your product: Are you confident that your product is of a high quality in design and production? Are you confident that there is a market for it? Are you confident that your potential customers will pay the price you calculate necessary to meet your costs?
  4. Know your market and competitors: It is essential that you know your market, as without this knowledge you cannot plan your route to market or the means of promotion you will use to inform your customers of your existence. It is also essential that you have a comprehensive knowledge of your competitors, as this knowledge will allow you to distinguish what the market will stand and identify the gaps in the market.
  5. The ability to recognize opportunities: Are you truly an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur will be studying the market and trends at all times and may go out on a limb (armed with good information) to seize an opportunity. All decisions should be taken based on information; knowledge is the greatest asset of any business.
  6. Costing and pricing: This is one of the most difficult tasks you need to address. It is imperative that you know your break-even point: the number of units sold that will cover the costs of your raw materials, your overheads, and your production time. Only when you know this figure (plus that of your competitors) will you be comfortable in the knowledge of how high or low your price may go.
  7. Good terms of trade and paperwork: Everything you communicate to your customer should be of a quality to promote you in a very positive manner. Your product should have good packaging, branding, and promotional materials. Your invoices should be clear and accurate and concisely show your terms of trade – how and when you expect to be paid.
  8. Keep clear records: There is no mystery to bookkeeping. It is nothing more than a filing system of the day-to-day transactions of your business. If you do not record and understand the transactions, your business will control you rather than you controlling it.
  9. Be tax-compliant: It is a legal obligation to register for tax with the Revenue Commissioners when you commence self-employment. Registering for tax does not necessarily mean paying tax in the early stages of your business. It may actually result in a repayment – should a number of circumstances be in play – for example, you may be paying PAYE on your employment while making a loss due to the investment in your craft business. Being able to claim the Artists’ Exemption on certain products also may be a benefit to registration.
  10. Planning: The key to a successful business is planning your project from day one. Planning is about making choices which should only be made on the basis of good information.

Advanced Home Upgrade Program Redesign Meeting

On September 20-21, we held two Advanced Home Upgrade Redesign Forums to unveil some changes to the program and discuss them with our participating contractors. Here are the recordings of those events:

Oakland 9/20/18:

Stockton 9/21/18:

Here are some of the slides presented at the forum for reference.

AHUP Redesign Deck:

AHUP Redesign Slides

High Performance HVAC Deck:

High Performance HVAC

Building Your Business

Is it time to grow your business? Are you looking to expand into new markets or territories? Growing your business, regardless of whether you’re just starting out or have been in the industry for years, requires careful planning. In order to strategically scale up your operations, you must ensure you will have the resources (workers, equipment, etc.) to handle the additional work.

Here are 12 tips to help you successfully grow your business:

  1. Build a great team. Your people are your business. Hire dependable, knowledgeable and skilled employees. Retain your best employees by promoting and rewarding them for their hard work and reliability.
  2. Manage your business, but lead your people. Your employees want to be led, not managed. Be a great leader, and your employees will follow you anywhere. If you try and manage every aspect of your employees work, they will think you have no confidence in their ability to make good decisions and properly do their jobs.
  3. Invest in your business. If you want to earn more business, you have to invest time and money into your company. This means buying new equipment and technology when needed, training your employees, and actively marketing your business.
  4. Be selective to be profitable. It’s not enough to just earn more business. When you take on more work, it has to profitable. There’s no sense in doubling the number of jobs you take if you aren’t increasing your profits.
  5. Get the word out. Word of mouth remains the number one method most companies use to market their business and earn more work. Encourage your best customers to tell others about the great work your company does.
  6. Play to your strengths. Would you rather have your company be known as a decent all-around general contracting firm or the best general contractor doing LEED certified hotel renovations? Finding a niche market or specializing in a specific industry can set you apart from your competitors.
  7. Network to earn more work. One of the best ways to network is to join and be active in the local chapter of a trade association. Networking can be a useful tool to build brand awareness for your company, generate leads, and find vendors. Being active and giving back to your community is also a great networking opportunity for your business.
  8. Quality is king. Tread carefully when considering any measure that could sacrifice the quality of your work. Cutting corners to reduce costs and speed up completion of a project can be detrimental. Your company’s reputation for doing quality work is only as good as your last project, so never compromise your high standards of performing quality work.
  9. Change is good. Adaptability is one of the keys to success in your industry. As we’ve seen in the Great Recession, it can be quite a volatile industry. If you are unwilling to make adjustments in your business to keep up with the changing trends, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  10. Give great customer service. Pleasing your clients should be a top priority. This doesn’t mean you have to cave in to their every demand. You should be actively communicating with your client on all aspects of a project so you can be equal partners in the decision-making process. Satisfied customers will lead to repeat business and great referrals.
  11. Be proactive, not reactive. You can’t just sit back and expect more work to just fall in your lap. You have to proactively seek out new opportunities to retain and grow your business. Constantly reach out to the owners, architects, and general contractors you find to learn what projects they have on the horizon.
  12. Make smart decisions. We make thousands of decisions every day, many of which are inconsequential. When it comes to earning more business, this often means making hard decisions that will impact your success for years to come. Take the time to consider all angles and options and perform your due diligence for future success. Never get pressured into making rash or impulsive decisions.

Onboarding your Customers

Onboarding is a process, not a one-and-done action. It goes beyond the handshake not only to prove your value over and over, but also to sustain a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship.

An on boarded customer is two things:

  1. One that has experienced “initial success” with your product
  2. One that sees the real value potential in their relationship with you

When is a customer onboarded?

  1. The moment they sign up, and
  2. The moment they see success with your product

Here are 6 tips to make your onboarding more successful –

1. Define Expectations — and Set Milestones – Immediately

Defining expectations and milestones is important in the first few days and weeks of engagement with your customers. The biggest question to answer is this: How do we define success? The word “success” is synonymous with the ultimate goal. That means defining what they want out of your engagement, what many in the customer success world call their “desired outcome.”

That will set the stage for setting the customer’s expectations.

Next? Make a plan and make it happen. This will require setting “success milestones” — a fancy word for goal deadlines — and letting your customer define what those will look like during the sales process, no matter what it looks like in your industry.

Most importantly, be very real: make sure you’re setting milestones you can accurately hit every time.

2. Customize the Onboarding Experience

There’s tons of stuff out in the interwebs about customizing the onboarding experience for new employees to make them feel at home. Here’s your lesson: treat your customers like you would a new, valuable employee — consider your customer as a partner and make their onboarding experience specific to them and their needs.

Part of the onboarding experience should be individualizing each account — that should be your general baseline practice, and it will come through defining those expectations, as seen above.

3. Onboard the Team

This means YOUR team. And not just your sales team — the whole team. Make sure everyone who will be involved knows the needs, pain points, story, background, and onboarding process of the customer.

Make no mistake — this is a relatively new concept, made popular by customer success. Doing an internal onboarding brief not only makes the customer an integral part of the everyday functioning of the company, but also aligns the team in a way that will allow for the proper flow and functioning of new ideas, less time briefing, and generally a better-oiled machine.

4. Gather Data

Gather data, gather data, gather data. Whether that looks like website analytics, buying tendencies, typical sales cycle length, how the customer fairs in the overall market, etc., gather data.

Data will also be your go-to not only through the onboarding process but beyond it. Having baseline data to compare progress or failure to will help you define the success of your sales. You must consistently prove your value beyond the onboarding process, but to do so you need to gather the necessary data during the onboarding process.

5. Focus on the Relationship

Again: This is not a sale. This is a partnership. It doesn’t matter if the sale is a matter of seconds or a couple of years but in selling you have created the opportunity for a relationship. Hint: Don’t let it slide on by.

So how do you create a relationship? Assign account managers. Check in. Follow, like, and comment on their content on social media. Call for progress checkups. It’s not rocket science. It’s simple, honest, earnest communication. Trust is the antithesis to churn, and relationships build trust and show value.

6. Bonus: Communicate

Notice throughout each best practice above, communication and contact is necessary for success. Good, consistent communication during the onboarding process will be what makes or breaks your relationship with your customer. Don’t leave them at the sale! Be with them during the initial stages of your engagement, and make sure they know you’re available.

Great customer onboarding is your shelter in the inevitable event of churn. So go forth, evolve, and welcome new customers with excitement, engagement, and enthusiasm.

9 Vital Practices for Running a Successful HVAC Contracting Business

1. Plan:

a. The first step in any business is to set goals for the company and define how you will achieve them. Before you begin the working the numbers, review and, if necessary, update your mission, your vision for the next five years, and your unique selling proposition. What is your target for sales, gross profit, and net profit? Ideally, you are departmentalized and can break these down by department.
b. This is a seasonal business. Some months are better than others, so break it down by month. To achieve the revenue, how many service calls will be required? How many installations?
c. This leads to manpower requirements. How many technicians will you need? How many installers? How many salespeople? Remember to look at the calendar and make adjustments for holidays and weekends.

2. Analyze:

a. Every month, you should review full financial statements (many believe this should be done weekly). This includes your balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement. Calculate your rations, especially your liquidity rations. Companies do not close because they are not profitable. They close because they run out of cash.
b. In addition, you want to track other key metrics like gross profit, you average service call ticket, average installation sale, sales per employee, sales versus budget and last year, labor as a percent of service, labor as a percent of installations, service agreements customers as a percent of total active customers, and so on. Track all of these weekly or monthly.
c. Track incoming service calls, leads, service revenue, installation sales, new service agreements, non-renewal service agreements, total service agreements, and cash balance daily. Assign responsibility for the preparation of a daily dashboard to your bookkeeper. Look over these at the start of each day.

3. Communicate:

a. As business owner you are the chief communicator and evangelist for your company. A significant part of your job is external and internal communication.
b. Externally, you should represent your company in your community. Get involved in community organizations and events. Yes, this pulls you away from your company, but it also pulls the community to your company.
c. Internally, you should set the tone for the organization. If you are positive, your team will be positive. If you are gloomy, people will fear the worst. Your organization reflects you.
You owe it to your co-workers to let them know how they are performing individually and as a team. Take some time to talk with each person who reports to you to know how he or she is performing.

4. Recruit:

a. Maybe the most important role of a business owner is recruiting co-workers. Always be on the lookout for talent. Keep a list of people you think could work in key positions in your organization. If you aren’t ready to hire someone today, keep in touch with the individual so you can pick up the phone tomorrow when you are ready.b. Interview anyone, anytime. Recruiting should account for 25% to 30% of your time. Look for people with great attitudes and mechanical aptitude for your field service and installation positions. Send them to the various schools available in the industry that will get them up to speed quickly on basic service work.

5. Appreciate:

a. As we hire more Gen Y and Millennials, our approach to management must change. These are individuals who received participation trophies as kids. Like the kids of Lake Woebegone, every single one of them is above average. They have grown up being told how special and wonderful they are and expect that to continue.
b. You may think a paycheck is thanks enough, but this generation thinks not. If you want to keep them engaged on your behalf, show them appreciation. In fact, treat them like a volunteer workforce.

6. Measure:

a. Pick your sport – bowling, golf, you name it. If you are not keeping score, you will play sloppy. Once you keep score, especially if others see it, your performance will improve. The same thing happens with your technicians, salespeople, and customer service representatives (CSRs). Once they know their performance is being monitored, it improves.
b. Require your people to report their results. Display the numbers on a monitor or white board, and watch the results improve. It’s like magic.
c. Want to see greater improvements? Join one of the groups where technicians are compared with other technicians from across the country. Suddenly, the company hotshot is not so hot. This will drive top performers insane, and they will move mountains to move up the rankings.

7. Incent:

a. Business writer Michael LeBoeuf said the greatest management principle is “what gets rewarded, gets done.” Incentivize your people’s performance and you will get more of it. Yes, pay for performance.
b. Pay wages for time on the job and you will get time on the job. Pay incentives for productivity and that’s what you will get.
c. Of course the challenge is to examine your incentives for unintended consequences. Make sure you’re not incentivizing undesirable behavior. For example, when a contractor split the diagnostic, or response charge, with his technicians, he discovered that the technician were incented to run as many calls, as fast as possible, instead of slowing down, being thorough, and providing great service. Of course, not all incentives are monetary. Some people respond better to time off than additional income. Others simply crave recognition. It’s amazing what some people will do for a $10 plaque.

8. Delegate:

a. The most difficult lesson for many contractors is learning to let go. Even if you are the best at everything, you cannot accomplish everything on your own. You must learn to delegate. Control freaks take note: delegation does not require micromanagement. Accept that people may not perform a task as well as you, as fast as you, or exactly the same way.
b. Unless you learn how to delegate, you’ll never grow beyond your personal capacity. You’ll never have a company. You will only own a job. You cannot sell a job. You can only sell a company.
c. Your job as owner is to build a team and processes so that your presence is not necessary. Only then will you have a sustainable business.

9. Learn:

a. Society is not static. Business is not static. You cannot be static either. You must embark on a lifelong quest to seek more knowledge and new and better ways of growing your business. Your personal growth will be reflected in your company’s growth.
b. Read the trade magazines. Read business books. Attend conferences, seminars, and dealer meetings. Join contractor groups. Never before has our industry had such a wealth of information available. Moreover, the information available tomorrow will far exceed the information available today. If you do not keep up with the state-of-the-art, you will get left behind.

 

10 Ways to Better Serve Your Customers

  1. Give potential customers quick estimates. Send them a cost estimate within 24 hours of any initial meeting.
  2. Ask your customers how they want to communicate. Email, phone calls, texting—there are many options these days. Asking your customers what they prefer shows you’re in tune with their needs.
  3. Have a web presence. People want to learn about your hours and services online. A website is best, but a Facebook® page can also suffice.
  4. Respond to online comments. Whether someone leaves a comment on a social media page, a review website like Yelp, or sends a message through your website, it’s important to acknowledge and respond to each one in a prompt manner.
  5. Empower your employees. In addition to knowing how to do a job, your employees need to know how to treat a customer. Share your service guidelines with new employees—and offer refreshers to veterans employees as needed.
  6. Stay in touch with your customers. One way to do that is by sending an e-newsletter. E-newsletters can inform your customers of specials and new services. Seasonal tips on how to maintain their home are also appreciated.
  7. Give them something extra. Let customers know how much you appreciate them by offering a little something extra from time to time. It could be anything from an air filter if you’re an HVAC contractor or extra paint for touch ups if you’re in the painting business. Other options could include swag from your business like a calendar, key chain or notepads.
  8. Offer a satisfaction guarantee and/or warranties on your work. Having one shows your customers that you’re committed to great service.
  9. Follow up with your customers. Set a reminder to call your customers a few weeks after you complete a job. Ask them if everything is working as it should and if they’re satisfied with the job. Thank them for choosing your business.
  10. Immediately acknowledge any issues. If a customer has a legitimate complaint—or you simply sense that things aren’t up to snuff—act fast. Talk to your customer and apologize if necessary. Consider adding a discount to the work performed or offering an upgrade to compensate for the inconvenience.

Post-Install Monitoring with OpenEE

In order to build a more effective program, we are about to begin requiring post-install data sharing on all AHU projects. This will allow us to pave the road for the eventual transition of Advanced Home Upgrade to a Pay for Performance delivery model.

We’ve started walking contractors through getting customers to share data using a “Green Button” link and how to use the OpenEE dashboards to see how your installations are performing over the long term. Contact us if you want to speed up your company’s onboarding.

Data sharing will be required as of August 1, 2018, we suggest you add the data sharing component into your customer SOW immediately.

Data sharing instructions:

There are two ways to initiate the data share, either by sending an email link or having the customer sign into their PG&E account and initiate the share that way. Not all customers have registered at PGE.com yet, and they will need to do so in order to share their data.

Get the email link which can be used to initiate the Share My Data process by emailing it to the customer.

Download and print the customer hand-out PDF, which has instructions the customer can use to activate their data sharing with Build It Green.

What this does for you the contractor:

  • Contractors who work with Build it Green will finally be able to see the savings associated with their projects and be recognized for their quality work
  • By better understanding how different measures perform, contractors will be able to use those results to deliver better savings on future projects

What this does for your customer:

  • Data sharing with us offers an approved way for Build It Green to securely request energy usage data needed to calculate the energy savings of completed home energy retrofits
  • For the first time, we will be able to measure the actual energy savings of recently installed efficiency projects. Gathering this information will help us target incentives and deliver better savings for less money

How to sell-in and answer customer questions:

  • Who can view their meter data? The contractor, Build It Green (for verification and analysis), and OpenEE who created the dashboard
  • Is the data private beyond that? Absolutely, all PII data (Personally Identifiable Information) is kept confidential as specified by our terms of agreement with PG&E
  • Is this really a requirement? Yes, data sharing is required for participation in both Cool Savers and Advanced Home Upgrade. Validating the actual earned savings from upgrade jobs is the future for energy efficiency programs going forward
  • Can I end data sharing once the participation period is over? Yes, when the two year participation period is complete you may terminate the data share through your PGE.com account
  • What happens if I terminate the data share early? You’ll be removed from other bonus incentive pools on Cool Savers and potential bonus pools on Advanced Home Upgrade (not in place yet)

Selling in:

  • Your meter data is secure and only viewed by program implementers who’ve signed agreements to protect customer data
  • Meter data allows us to track the actual savings against projected savings. We will be able to see if your upgrades are performing the way we expected them to
  • We will see alerts when upgrades aren’t performing and be able to check why, potentially saving you more money
  • You’ll know that you got the performance that you expected and paid for

Changes to Home Upgrade Training and Certification Requirements

Update: Contractors can now have either a BPI Analyst on staff or use a Participating Rater; BPI Analysts must retake the Advanced Technical Training every two years.

 

 

Dear Participating Contractors and Raters,

With the Home Upgrade basic pathway being discontinued, the Advanced Home Upgrade pathway will become the primary program offering. Build It Green is working to help contractors transition their businesses to Advanced Home Upgrade, and to help Raters continue their participation as we evolve and scale the program. Our goal is to build a thriving market for home performance contracting; to achieve that goal, we must increase the number of providers who offer these services.

Participation Rule Change for BPI Analysts

Accommodating differing business sizes and models helps us scale. With this in mind, BIG and PG&E have adjusted the participation rules so that Advanced Home Upgrade contractors can either:

  1. Have a BPI Analyst on staff or
  2. Use a Participating Rater

Training Requirement Change

BIG is rolling out a more extensive training schedule to help contractors refresh their skills. We are working to build the most elite team of home performance contractors—like you!—in California, and this more extensive training schedule helps us get there.

This means that professionals who have not taken either Advanced Technical Training or Home Upgrade Core Training in 2016/2017 will need to retake it at some point in 2018.

This change is to ensure that the rigor and training that have made Advanced Home Upgrade successful continues as we expand our contractor pool. On-boarding and additional training are the two places where we can have the biggest impact, and we’ll be raising our standards and requirements in both areas.

Please review the chart for the updated training requirements–or click the image above to download a pdf version.

Upcoming Trainings: Mark Your Calendar

May 23-25  | Home Upgrade Core Training
June 18-20 | Home Upgrade Core Training
July 18-20  | Home Upgrade Core Training
Aug. 13-15 | Home Upgrade Core Training

March 14-15 | Home Energy Score Boot Camp (Santa Maria)

April 2-3 | Advanced Technical Training
May 7-8 | Advanced Technical Training
June 4-5 | Advanced Technical Training
July 9-10 | Advanced Technical Training
Sept. 17-18 | Advanced Technical Training

Coming soon: HPHI (High Performance HVAC Install) Training, Duct Leakage to Outside Testing Training

*Note: For contractors who live a considerable distance away from the Stockton training center, we will offer to move a Home Upgrade Core or Advanced Technical Training location if a group of 8 or more forms and will commit to one of the above dates in their area (for example, Bakersfield or Fresno).

Home Upgrade Pathway to be Discontinued in 2018

The Energy Upgrade California® Home Upgrade program is being simplified for 2018: The Home Upgrade pathway (formerly known as the “Basic” pathway) is being discontinued. The Advanced Home Upgrade pathway will continue and become the program’s primary offering.

Build It Green (BIG) and PG&E encourage all Home Upgrade contractors to offer the deeper Advanced Home Upgrade pathway to your customers— for up to $5,500 in incentives. BIG can assist your company with the training and support necessary to make this transition.

2018 Timeline

Build It Green and PG&E will ensure that you have adequate time to adjust your business to this program change and to complete all Home Upgrade/Basic pathway jobs in your pipeline.

  • April 30: Last day to submit all HU pathway jobs: Between now and April 30, you should complete all sales negotiations for jobs involving HU incentives.
  • June 15: Last day to approve HU pathway jobs: Between April 30 and June 15, all desktop reviews, corrections, and FQCs will take place. Applications not approved by June 15 will be canceled.
  • June 30: HU pathway officially discontinued: PG&E will process final payments and complete CIP inspections.

Why Is Home Upgrade Changing?

Home Upgrade is evolving to more strongly emphasize comprehensive home energy retrofits that provide deepest energy savings and greatest value to customers. The Advanced Home Upgrade pathway typically delivers deeper and more cost-effective energy savings than the Home Upgrade/Basic pathway.

Overall, Home Upgrade has been a strong success, providing energy upgrades to thousands of of homes and creating consumer demand for home performance services. As a Participating Contractor, your business has played a key role in that success! But moving forward, programs like Home Upgrade must become more cost-effective—producing more energy savings per rebate dollar—in order for PG&E to support the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) goal to reduce energy consumption in existing homes by 40%.

Migrating to the Advanced Home Upgrade Pathway

One of Home Upgrade’s core goals has always been to create consumer demand for home performance services and to help contractors like you grow your business. That remains a core focus moving forward, and Build It Green will continue to provide support, training, and business opportunities.

In particular, BIG can help you transition to the Advanced Home Upgrade pathway. This incentive offering—based on a customized package of upgrades tailored to the needs of your customers—provides the largest rebate amounts, deepest energy savings, and greatest comfort. With each Advanced Home Upgrade job, you’ll be providing quality work for happier customers. Contact your Build It Green account representative to discuss how to get started.

To all Participating Contractors: Thank you for your hard work and continued partnership in the growing Home Upgrade program—and growing the home performance industry.