In an economy that demands more and pays less, you need to keep an eye out for anything and everything that will make your business run more smoothly and save a buck. Roofing material and equipment manufacturers continue to roll out new offerings, and you need to pay attention to these, in spite of the economy. Falling behind the competition is easy in the installed roofing business: sit around and do nothing and it will happen.
Some productivity tools available to roofing contractors are virtually free. You have to own a personal computer or laptop and a connection to the World Wide Web, but there are plenty of business tools that come at no additional cost. Some of you have been using these tools and take them for granted. For those of you who continue to resist “logging on,” you must realize there is now a real business cost in not interfacing with computers and the online world.
Free software is downloadable to perform the office functions you would routinely do with a personal computer. These include word processing, spreadsheets, Adobe Reader (for viewing .pdf files, now very common), e-mail, calendar, and contact lists, even a basic accounting package. Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo! Search and others offer a very fast source of information. Most roofing manufacturers have full product literature and specifications available online, as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and installation instructions.
Speaking of a great resource, our Web site, www.roofingcontractor.com, offers one of the best resources for the roofing industry. On the left side of the home screen there is a listing simply titled, “Resources.” There you will find links to a world of information by way of the AEC Store, an online store full of great business books, including our Book of the Month Club recommendation. The Roofing Contractor online version archives feature articles going back around 10 years. My personal favorite is the Roofing Resource Buyers Guide, which is a searchable listing for all things roofing including equipment, material, accessories, and specialties of all types.
Satellite map software such as Microsoft Virtual Earth and Google Earth have some great applications for the roofing business. The images (on the free versions) are limited, but the basic information you get is pretty good. When sending a crew or a delivery out to a large site for the first time, for instance, you may print out an image of the site and draw a map indicating where the correct entrance is and where you need them to set up, stage material, or start work.
Social media sites are free and some roofing contractors are finding them a great way to network. If not a direct route to new business, social media does enhance your overall visibility in the market and you cannot beat the price. Sites such as Twitter, Linkedin, MySpace, and FaceBook provide platforms to send your message.
Many of the software and sites mentioned here are also available in “enhanced” versions that offer more bells and whistles. Those will come at a cost, but as you get to know something by trial, you can figure out the value of the enhanced services.