As with other client businesses, when it comes to making it as a contractor, professionalism is everything. Rightly or wrongly, as a contractor, clients will judge you not just on the quality of your work, but on the overall impression, you leave with them.
Fortunately, some simple changes can make a big difference in how clients view you and improve your bottom line.
1. Show Up On Time
It sounds simple, but too many contractors don’t take showing up on time seriously enough. From the client’s perspective, though, showing up late is an immediate red flag. Angie’s List even lists showing up late as one of the 10 warning signs that you’re hiring a bad contractor. Showing up on time, on the other hand, is easy to do and costs you nothing. Aim for 15 minutes early and you should have no problems. On the rare occasion when you’re going to be late, call your client and let them know.
Bonus: one way to make sure that you’re where you need in time is to schedule your appointments on an online calendar tool like Google Calendar. If you put in a location, Google Calendar will even tell you when you need to leave to get where you’re going on time.
2. Use Shoe Covers
A lot of people have shoeless households these days. Even if they don’t, do you really want to be responsible for tracking mud and dirt into the client’s house?
Bonus: you can use disposable shoe covers or, for a greener option, invest in reusable ones.
3. Keep Your Trucks Clean & Organized
Creating a good impression doesn’t stop at the job site. A disorganized or messy truck suggests to clients that your work may be the same.
One of my old bosses dealt with this by setting a schedule for his crew to clean the inside of the trucks every day and to wash the outside weekly, and he paid them for their time.
Bonus: If you work in the field, you can set a good example for your crew by tidying up after yourself.
4. Have a Dedicated Business Line
No one wants to call a contractor on their home number or personal cell phone.
There are lots of different options for making sure customer calls go to your company business line. One is a virtual phone system that lets you use landlines, computers, and cellphones as a single system. Services that do this range from classics like Vonage and newcomers like Dialpad.
A less expensive option is call forwarding. This is basically one number and message that gives callers a directory and forwards them to the representative they are trying to reach. These services can also mask outgoing numbers on cell phones so that your customers will always have only one number to call.
Grasshopper, the forwarding service we use, only costs $24 a month, but there are other options you can look into as well.
Bonus: it might not seem like a big deal for salespeople to be giving clients their personal line, but what if the salesperson leaves the company? Do you really want old customers calling that cell?
5. Answer Your Phone Promptly & Professionally
Even if you don’t have a dedicated line, it’s really important to train your team to answer potential customer calls professionally. The difference between “Hello, this is Bob Smith from XYZ services,” and “Yeah?” is potentially the difference between winning and losing a contract.
Bonus: you can also consider hiring an answering service to pick up calls for you. A contractor I used to work with worked with a Ruby receptionist. Using an answering service ensures that you never miss a call and that your calls are answered in a professional way.
6. Respond to Emails & Calls Promptly
Try to respond to all your customers in one business day or less. Even if you don’t have an answer to the customer’s question or your bid isn’t ready, you can always just call the customer back and tell them when they can expect to hear from you. If you use them, this goes for lead generation services too.
Bonus: if you’re a higher volume contractor, a customer relationship management (CRM) program can help you keep track how long it took you to respond. A good CRM can also send you a reminder to get back to the customer when it’s time. Energy Circle has a CRM guide for Home Performance Contractors from a few years ago. Or check out Business Insider’s Best CRM Software for Small Business for a general, but more up-to-date take on what’s out there.
7. Respond to Reviews
Getting a negative review online can be stressful and upsetting. But it’s worth it to respond on the website if you can. Tell the customer you’re sorry and offer to resolve the issue. If possible contact the customer directly as well. (This article has some good tips on how to respond to a negative Yelp review). No matter what happens, always be polite and professional. You may be surprised: sometimes bad reviews can turn into good ones if you just reach out and offer to fix the problem.
Bonus: don’t forget to respond to good reviews too! Doing so shows you appreciate your good customers.
8. Update Your Website
With all the work a contractor has to do, who has time to update their website? Unfortunately, website standards change and web design is always evolving. The site you thought looked fine a few years ago might seem very out-of-date today. While some customers won’t notice or care, many will.
If you need to redesign your site from scratch, many of the new web services like Wix or Weebly provide an easy way to create a modern-looking, professional website without spending a lot of time. For the more technically inclined, WordPress is the industry standard for power and flexibility.
Web design can be overwhelming, so a good approach is to start simple and build out pages one at a time. For someone in the contracting business, content is the most important, so don’t waste time over-designing your site. Do make sure though that you’ve chosen a responsive theme that looks good on mobile devices. According to Google, these days more people search the Internet from mobile devices than from the desktop, so your mobile site should look good.
Web design can be intimidating, so don’t be afraid to get help from a professional. We use Energy Circle to host our site, and they also help with other kinds of marketing.
Bonus: an up-to-date and professional website should have a custom domain. That domain can be used to set up custom email addresses if you don’t already use one. It looks more professional if a customer gets an email from firstname.lastname@example.org than email@example.com.
9. Keep Your Branding Simple & Consistent
Most of us are not graphic designers, and shouldn’t try to be. If you don’t have the resources to hire a designer, it’s almost always better to err on the side of simple. There’s no need to wrap your vehicles with marketing. Your logo and contact info on the door of a clean white truck goes a long way. Stay away from crazy fonts in your materials and stick with the classics: Helvetica/Arial or Times/Georgia. Those fonts are readable and everyone has them on their computers.
Bonus: if you have the resources, it can be worth it to hire a graphic designer. Just remember, logos are just a part of branding. Much more important is how your customer sees, hears and perceives you overall.
10. Use Trust Symbols
“Trust symbols” are signs or badges that add credibility to your business. These include general business memberships (Better Business Bureau) industry associations you might be a part of (BPI Goldstar Contractor) safety certifications (EPA Lead Safe) or regional groups (California Green Business Program). Keep in mind that these are just examples—you should focus on what memberships are important to your customers, depending on the area you work in and the specialties you focus on.
Bonus: check your certifications to see if the certifying organization provides a list of members. If so, make sure you’re on it. A listing on a certifying organization website can send direct business to your site and help your own website’s search ranking.
With a little careful thought, research and change in practices, you can improve your company’s professionalism in small ways that will pay big dividends down the line.
Communications & Marketing
Efficiency First California
Image from iStock.