I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, but I do use it to communicate with family, friends and high school buddies. Recently, I saw a photo from an old client come up in the “people you may know” section. This guy always struggled to make a living as a contractor, and after a few years, he just gave it up. Curious as to how he is doing now, I clicked to see. Well, he is a sales trainer and motivational speaker. I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. Here is a guy who couldn’t keep three people employed to make a living but now is an expert.
For years, someone with a pickup truck, ladder and a shovel could become a contractor. Now, with an eight-by-ten glossy photo and some slick verbiage, anyone can become an Internet authority. While social media and a Web presence are a must, just because someone has an online profile doesn’t mean he or she is a real contractor.
One of the real difficulties with social media is that it measures customer service, but it does not do a good job of measuring the quality of long-term craftsmanship. A clean-cut person can show up at your door and be courteous and prompt, but what if two years later the project fails? If you go to a restaurant and have a nice meal, you can rate that restaurant online for instant satisfaction. That meal does not make you sick two years from now when it fails.
One way to combat the “all fluff, no stuff” contractors is to do a good job of emphasizing past jobs and longevity in the marketplace. Don’t just take a photo of a job you recently completed; show a seven-year-old job that still looks good. When talking to customers about products, emphasize different parts of your job that ensure it will last a long time. For example, caulking might be a small part of the overall project, but you can easily explain to the customer the difference between a caulk that might fail in two years and one that is guaranteed for 25 years.
Don’t just list a few customers with quotes. If you have been in business for 10 years and work on 50 houses a year, show a list of the 500 addresses of houses you have re-roofed. If you work a lot in the same neighborhoods, use dots on a map to show the density of your past work. Emphasize trade associations you are members of and any manufacturer certifications you might have.
If you are going to play the social media game, have a process that encourages your customers to post something about your business. It is all about the law of averages. The more the merrier.
Many contractors are great public citizens but do a poor job of promoting their generosity. The next time you help a charity or do some type of public event, send a press release to the media. You can also take some photos of your effort and post them to your webpage or email past customers.
Too many contractors act as invisible forces within their community. Many go to work before the sun comes up and get home after dark. Except for customers, no one knows who they are. Consider joining Rotary, Lions or other business community groups. Be a real and tangible force in your community.
All fluff and no stuff can also be an issue when hiring employees. Sometimes the employee who gives the best interview and has the prettiest résumé is not the best fit. Be willing to investigate potential hires. If prospective employees look too good to be true, they probably are.
- During the interview process ask questions that force people to think while they talk. “Could you tell me about the first job you worked?” “What did you like and dislike about your last job?” “When I call your former employer, what do you think they might say?” I asked this question once during an interview, and the person replied, “Well, what happened is really not normal. When my husband came to work with a gun, he had not been taking his meds.”
- Check all employee references to make sure they are real. People who have served time in prison for embezzlement or drugs have a big incentive to fake their résumés.
- Look online and see what you can find out about the applicant. I had someone apply to a job, and when I looked online, they were falling down drunk in almost every Facebook post.
- Perform some type of skill testing. For the office, give them an old-fashioned typing test. For field people, watch them perform some type of skill.
- When hiring immigrant workers, have an application form in their native language and see if they can fill it out in front of you.
Don’t just listen to what the employee has to say or presents, see what they can do. In some cases, consider hiring them for a day or two to see how it goes. Do everything you can to judge that person on facts.
Fighting fluff when buying from vendors can also be worthwhile. Finding good salespeople with something to offer and companies that have a unique buying proposition can be really tough.
When I was a child, I found Winnie the Pooh was stuffed with fluff but offered much wisdom and stuff. Oh my, where is Winnie when you need him?