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Out With The Old, In With The New

Originally published: 01.01.12 by Terry Tanker

What did you accomplish in 2011? Did your business do better than in 2010? Probably not.

Don’t feel too badly. Considering the depth of the downturn of 2008-2009, many businesses — large and small — maintained a cautious outlook last year and concentrated on refilling depleted capital accounts, paying down debt, and waiting for Congress to stop its juvenile bickering and do its job. Not everyone played it safe, though. We saw an uptick in acquisitions in our industry for those lucky enough to take advantage of such opportunities, and some contractors even added new services such as energy-performance management and zoning. Several told us they were having their best year ever.

As we start the new year, let me issue a challenge to those of you who have been clinging to caution — let go and be bold. The time has come for you to plan your next move.

Do some research and purposeful thinking to identify at least three ways to grow your business in 2012 and then formulate a plan to attack the one that is most likely to be successful based upon your investment potential and customer trends. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They are

opportunities to learn and refine, and if you let fear stop you from trying new things, your business will stagnate. If one strategy isn’t working, try another.

It’s easy to list reasons why now is not the time to invest in training, equipment, certification, hiring, fa- cilities, fleets, hardware and software, and the many other assets that improve efficiency and make room for growth. It’s true that the housing market has not recovered to previous peaks and that consumers are not as freewheeling with their cash as they used to be. But if you focus on these, you are bowing to things that are not within your control, and so nothing will change. If you focus on what you can control — your products, services, and performance — things will change, and for the better.

During the downturn, our financial columnist Ruth King wrote about contractors that were finding ways to keep cash coming in. These included such tried-and-true tactics as an owner personally calling customers he hasn’t spoken to in a year and/or offering a free service and filter change.

Now that many signs point to an economy that is recovering, there are even more ways to be proactive. Have you considered adding building performance contracting to your services? Or zoning? Both play directly into evidence that building owners and homeowners will invest in upgrades that reduce energy costs over the long term. (See our cover story on building performance contracting for more on this.) If you know how to uncover these opportunities and clearly present solutions, closing percentages increase dramatically. But like all good sales solutions, it takes practice, persistence, and prospecting.

What about local trends? Here in Ohio, we have four new casinos opening this year, there’s a natural- gas drilling boom building in the southern part of the state, and two companies in the medical-technology industry just announced they are moving hundreds of high-paying jobs from other states to our northern cities. When I see news like this, I see op- portunities for new construction and upgrades from residential and commercial customers aplenty! New residents are moving in, expanding businesses need more room, and everyone has more money to invest in their homes and buildings. I am hoping that local HVACR contractors are planning heightened marketing in response to these developments. Where are the new opportunities in your local market?

If you are looking for places to start, try city news- papers and local chambers of commerce. They love to boast about new businesses they have attracted to the area. Your employees are a great resource, too. They interact with your customers every day and live next door to them. They can be a wealth of ideas, as can colleagues in non-competing businesses. Sometimes what’s happening in their industries can reveal opportunities for your business.

Finally, if you aren’t as optimistic and still feel the bite of a slow economy in your market, follow the advice of Ruth King — commit to making a certain number of old-fashioned customer calls each day, stick to it, and track your results. (Remember the old adage, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”)

Opportunities are there. They aren’t always easy to see, and they often require an investment of time and money. But one thing is certain — if you don’t plan to have a better 2012 than 2011, you won’t.

Terry has over 23 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming Hutchinson Tanker Ltd. and HVACR Business in January 2006, he spent 20 years with large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace. 

In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing, Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI, AMCA, and ABMA. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the American Boiler Manufactures Association (ABMA) and as chairman, for both the Associates Committee and the Marketing Communications Committee of ABMA.

Articles by Terry Tanker

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