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Cultivate These Marketing Habits and Harvest Success

It’s nearing the end of summer right now and in many places across the country, that means farmers are hard at work growing our nation’s food supply. Home inspection business owners can learn a lot from farmers, especially when it comes to marketing.

Marketing plans, like successful farms, require careful planning, good design, and consistent attention to produce the best results. Today, I’ll share two “seeds” that you can plant as part of your marketing to grow your inspection business over the long haul. Both will take some careful cultivation to produce revenue for you, but both contain the potential to increase your income exponentially.

Seed #1: Expanding Your Agent Referral Base
Real estate agents are a top referral source for home inspection businesses. To keep the referral pipeline full, you have to provide value for your agents before you can expect them to provide valuable referrals to you.
As you research your agents to better understand which ones are your best producers, and which offices contain your rising superstars, consider who you’ve been connecting with lately. Are you reaching out to your best agents regularly, or letting the relationship wither on the vine? Do your best referral sources know they can count on you, and that you’re never too busy to care for them? If not, then start booking lunches and meetings to water and nourish these crucial friendships.

Seed #2: Hiring Additional Inspectors
Expanding your inspection workforce is related to marketing (and to our farming metaphor) because it allows you to focus on providing the same or better level of service to clients while expanding the number of clients you serve. The more “hired hands” you bring on board to help you, the more bountiful a harvest you’ll be able to provide for everyone (including yourself).
I know a lot of inspection business owners struggle to make the time to hire new inspectors. Here are two quick solutions that can help you find a great inspector within the next 30 days.

  • Establish or renew your relationship with pre-inspection schools. You and the schools have overlapping interests. Get to know the teachers, and prepare a proposal for hiring new inspectors once they’ve completed their training. Make sure these schools are aware of your reputation and professionalism so you’re top of mind when they have newly minted inspectors seeking employment.
  • Get to know your local fire department. Firefighters are physically fit, understand home construction, and spend their days closely observing various types of structures. Additionally, they have large blocks of time off each month, so they may be open to working for you as a side hustle.

Summer is often a very busy season for home inspectors, as it is for farmers. But just as is the case for farmers, if you don’t pay attention to your marketing “seeds” on a regular basis, they will be choked out by your competition, or fail to thrive because they haven’t received the care they need. A lot of business owners only focus on business building when they have a bad week, or a bad month. If you’re new to the home inspection business, you may spend as much as 70 to 80 percent of your time on marketing activities. And even if you’re a well-established business, I’d recommend spending anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of your time marketing, prospecting, or moving your business toward its next big goal.

Some of you home inspectors will claim your schedule is “just too full” to find time to expand the business, but that’s like a farmer not taking the time to water and tend to his crops. The easiest way to overcome this time challenge is to block out two four-hour “appointments” in your schedule EVERY WEEK for marketing and business-building tasks. What you fill those appointments with is up to you. You could meet up-and-coming real estate agents, establish a friendship with a pre-inspection school instructor or a firefighter, or you could draft a document that outlines what you’d expect out of the next home inspector you hire, and why you’re a great company to work for.

Home inspection business owners are fortunate right now that the sun is shining on the industry in terms of a robust real estate market. But don’t take your next harvest for granted. Plan out how you’ll plant new marketing seeds to keep your success cycle in motion, and your business can flourish … indefinitely.

Switch Up Your Business and Turn on the Income

Simple changes can maximize your profits as a home inspector

The home inspection industry has undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. We’ve gone from a largely unlicensed industry, with few clear standards of practice or blueprints for success, to one that is impacted by licensing boards, insurance carriers, and our all-important relationships with real estate agents and home-buying clients.

Today’s inspector must offer a competitive array of services and maintain proactive communication with everyone involved with the inspection process, and our business processes have to provide solid results for us and our customers from the moment we start prospecting for work until long after the inspection is completed. Luckily, it’s possible to leverage one of the biggest changes to hit the home inspection industry during the past generation – the use of computer software and web technology – to our advantage.

Using the industry-specific tools, services and technology available today, a home inspector who owns his or her own business can thrive if he or she is willing to make a few simple upgrades to the way business is done. As the CEO of the Inspection Support Network (ISN), I have the privilege of working with inspection companies from across the United States, Canada and Australia. I’ve discovered a set of “income switches” that have the potential to flip on a flow of additional income, regardless of whether you are owner of a sole proprietorship or a multi-inspector operation. These “switches” work consistently across locations and markets, and can bring profit and greater ease and satisfaction to your business.

 

Income Switch #1 – Realize it’s all about service.

Retooling your business operation to focus on customer service can sound touchy-feely or maybe even a little woo-woo, but it really isn’t. Your clients’ perceptions of how they’re being treated translates into dollars and cents. According to the RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report, 89 percent of consumers say that they have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. If that wasn’t shocking enough, a Bain & Co. report on business loyalty noted that a customer is four times more likely to buy from a competitor if they encounter a problem that is (in their eyes) service related, compared to being price or product related.

If you’re providing good customer service, the ripple effect can move outward and result in better referrals, better relationships with real estate agents, and more income.

 

Income Switch #2 – Choose your report writing program carefully.

The finished report you present is crucial to the success of your business. It needs to not only look and feel professional, it needs to convey inspection findings concisely and be understandable to the home-buying client as well as his or her real estate agent. It’s especially important that the report be easy for your client’s agent to understand and use, because he or she will be the person referencing the report in conversations with the client long after you’ve moved on to the next inspection. If it is too long or hard for the real estate agent to understand, he or she is less likely to recommend you as a home inspection provider next time.

This income switch is one that does, quite honestly, require some up-front investment of time and money to discover which report writing software will work for you and provide quality results for your clients. When test-driving programs, you’ll want to look for time-saving features such as the ability to create and modify templates, easily add photos to the report, and customize reports.

 

Income Switch #3 – Select a business software platform that offers end-to-end connectivity.

One of the reasons that your choice of business software is so crucial is because a well-designed system saves you time as you deliver your business services, which in turn saves you money.

One of the productivity-boosting aspects of a software package such as ISN’s is that users are able to insert order information quickly, using mapping, data bases and more. Information you enter once shows up in other areas of the platform – without retyping or reformatting data, which can save you hours a day, and thousands of dollars per year. Your platform software should have the capability to push that entered data and information to any report writer you choose as well as any part of your customer-facing or internal operations, now and in the future.

 

Income Switch #4 – Hire a professional answering service.

Stop answering your phones from the attics or rooftops of your clients! It’s understandable that if you have a base of long-standing clients and referral partners, you want your business to retain a personal touch. However, utilizing a professionally managed call center provides a continually accessible resource to your customers where call representatives can schedule inspections, take orders, sell ancillary services and answer basic client questions, as well as act as a dispatcher when necessary.

Contracting with an answering service allows your company’s employees to focus on what they do best – inspecting homes. They don’t have to lose valuable time becoming derailed by special requests, scheduling snafus, and the like.

 

Income Switch #5 – Enable your company website to accept inspection orders.

This is a huge income switch. This action, just like hiring a professional answering service, allows more income to flow to you because it makes it easy for a client and/or his or her real estate agent to order an inspection any time, day or night.

During a typical home sale, the contingency period is short and everyone has hectic schedules to work around. Clients and agents need to confirm a time quickly. Anything you can do to shorten the amount of time your clients and their representatives have to wait to hear from you will increase the likelihood they’ll be satisfied and recommend you to others.

 

Income Switch #6 – Make your business operations mobile friendly.

Your customers are making purchasing decisions via mobile devices – including their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. According to statistics compiled by eMarketer, the percentage that American adults spent on mobile devices each day increased four-fold from 2008 to 2015, from 12 percent a day to 51 percent. Can you keep up with them?

Home inspection, by its very nature, is a business conducted “in the field.” Your business platform software should allow you to see your calendar, have clients sign an agreement, send an invoice, accept credit cards, pull up your business stats, view and send past reports via your mobile device. Consider this action as an extension of the decision to take orders on your website – the future of business is mobile, and you need to be a part of it in order to maximize profits and client satisfaction.

 

Income Switch #7 – Create a real estate dashboard for your agents.

If you have a truly robust business software platform like ISN’s, then you possess the must-have and valuable feature of an integrated real estate dashboard developed for the individual agents your company works with. ISN’s Real Estate Dashboard allows agents to quickly see your inspection availability, order an inspection, contact you by phone or email, or view past inspections they have been part of (with client approval), all with a few clicks.

This income switch has already proven to be very popular among both agents and inspectors. Agents love that they have so much information at their fingertips and can schedule inspections with their favorite inspectors at the touch of a few buttons. Inspectors who utilize the dashboards report that they’re able to obtain more in-office presentations at real estate offices, as they have something new and fantastic to demonstrate that will make the real estate agents’ lives a little easier.

 

Income Switch #8 – Hire a marketing professional.

If you’re spending all your time attending to current clients, you can’t prospect for new ones. If you’re a small operation, or just starting out, you don’t have to hire a full-time marketer. A part-time marketing specialist who puts in 15-20 hours a week can help a great deal. You could also hire a marketer at a lower hourly fee and provide them with a small bonus for every inspection from real estate agents who have not previously used you, or when they exceed a benchmark of a certain number of inspections each month or quarter, for an established office.

If you already have all the business you can handle, it’s time to train another inspector … and then you’ll need to hire that marketer so you can fill their schedule (and your bottom line), too.

 

Income Switch #9 – Know your numbers!

The home buying market changes rapidly, and you can’t make sound business decisions if you’re relying on last month’s or last quarter’s data.

Can you compare this month’s business income with last month’s, or with the same month last year? Can you determine the average price of an inspection in your market quickly? How many inspections did each of your inspectors do this month, and how does that compare to last year? How many inspections per week or per month are you getting from your most (and least) productive real estate agents and offices?

Your business platform software should enable you to pull up all this information quickly, regardless of whether you need it on a mobile device or your desktop. Do some research and make sure your software package can provide you with key data points on demand.

 

Income Switch #10 – Become or stay involved in local, state and national associations.

This is another income switch that requires investment, but pays off over the long haul. Attending technical classes keeps your skills sharp and enables you to retain your license and certifications. Business classes offered through professional associations can provide you with valuable networking opportunities and improve your professional knowledge and standing, as well as open up referral sources you might not have access to otherwise.

 

The home inspection industry offers a lot of fulfillment and profit to a person who is willing to invest in his or her enterprise. These income switches will allow you to capitalize on existing and emerging opportunities, and reap the benefits.

You may have noticed that a lot of these income-improvement tips revolve around upgrading your computer software platform, and that’s not an accident. Home buying is increasingly transacted electronically, and home inspectors must follow suit, to meet client and real estate agent expectations.

The world of business now requires vendors to be mobile, accessible, and service-focused. By following these 10 income switches, you’ll be ready to face that world, and stand out as a highly sought-after inspection provider.

Earning a Seat at the Table

The 4 Keys to Marketing to Realtors® at Sales Meetings

Marketing to real estate agents and their offices can be one of the most rewarding ways to grow your home inspection business. Agents are the ones who drive the real estate market, no matter where you are. And it’s a sizeable market: Realtor.org reports that there are about 2 million active real estate licensees in the United States, who are working for about 86,000 real estate brokerage firms, and who are selling some of the 115 million occupied housing units in this country.

 

Obviously, Realtors® make good referral partners for home inspectors, but how do you reach out to them? I’ve operated a successful multi-inspector company for 15 years and I’ve discovered that there are four key strategies for developing mutually beneficial relationships with agents and brokers.

 

Before we get to the strategies, it’s important to note that two challenges often stand in the way of home inspectors tapping this lucrative referral source. One is simply a difference in mindset between practitioners of the two professions. Real estate agents are typically very social people – the constant contact with people in their daily work life is often what draws them to that industry. Inspectors, on the other hand, are typically much more analytical, which is what helps us excel at our work. This difference of worldview can lead to friction, although it doesn’t have to, if you put yourself in the real estate agent’s shoes when doing outreach.

 

The other obstacle to referral success with Realtors® is simply inertia on the part of the inspector. It’s easy to keep doing whatever you’ve been doing to get new business and not try new marketing strategies. But the time to plant crops is not when you’re hungry, to use a farming metaphor. The time to plant those marketing “seeds” is when your field (the real estate firms) are the most ready to grow with you.

 

The 4 Keys to Real Estate Sales Meeting Success

 

The first, and by far most important, principle to keep in mind while marketing to agents is to:

I. SHOW THEM RESPECT

As with home inspections, the process of assisting clients in buying and selling property is much more complex than it appears at first glance. Real estate agents are very perceptive (there’s that social intelligence I alluded to earlier!) and it is very important for them to know that you respect them and what they do.

 

One of the easiest ways to show respect is to do your homework, so that you truly know your audience. Before you meet with agents from a particular firm, take a look at its agent rosters, whether you find them online via Multiple Listing Services (MLS) or simply examine data about them collected by your business management software system. Robust custom reports, such as those offered by Inspection Support Network’s system, can tell you which agents are your top referral sources. You can also discover if specific agents who used your services in the past are no longer doing so.

 

When you’re doing your market research and determining which real estate firms to work with, select a small group of offices or franchises that are considered respected (in terms of sales and customer satisfaction) in your area. By focusing on these top firms in your area, you will be getting referrals from only the best types of agents to work with: those who are both professional and productive.

 

Once you’ve done your homework and gathered enough information to show your audience respect, the second key is to:

II. USE A MULTI-FACETED MARKETING APPROACH

Developing brand recognition among your referral partners requires that they receive consistent, positive interaction with you on a regular basis, through different kinds of platforms.

 

One of the most effective ways to gain exposure in the real estate market is to make presentations at sales meetings within a specific company or office. Connecting with agents in their offices has become especially important, as more and more real estate offices are limiting contact with outside service providers to those who are on a “preferred vendors” list developed by the company or franchise. Typically, some kind of fee is charged to attain preferred vendor status. While I acknowledge this type of operating practice for brokers is not universally followed – and in some states it’s specifically prohibited – it can be a very significant part of an inspector’s marketing arsenal if it exists in their area and they choose to take part in it. Understand, also, that paying a fee to a brokerage to gain access to agents is a very personal choice. For it to be successful, there must be a good ‘fit’ between what the preferred vendor program provides, and the needs and level of participation of each individual inspector or inspection company. Brokers have various methods of allowing you access to their agents and what support they expect in return if you become a part of their preferred vendor list. Monitor the amount of exposure to agents you get within a firm – if it doesn’t meet your needs, look for another firm. If you are able to find a good ‘fit’, the results received can far outweigh the costs of being in the program.

 

Once you can make a presentation at a sales meeting, set goals in terms of your network within that firm and identify which agents you wish to further your relationship with. Go to sales meetings early, and be professional in your appearance and demeanor.

 

The third key to reap the benefits of sales meetings is to:

III. BE APPROACHABLE AND FUN

Marketing is a chance for you to mix, mingle, and allow the agents to see your personality. Show your human side at the sales meetings.

 

Don’t take yourself too seriously, and use a little ice breaker or inject a little humor into your presentation to help agents relate to you. Tell a funny (and relevant!) story, ask a question about their work, or find a compelling quote that frames what you have to say. Have fun, and think of it as “show time” if that helps switch your mind­set into performance mode!

 

Here is the most important thing about presenting at sales meetings: stay for the entire meeting! In my experience, most other marketing reps will leave immediately after their presentations. Staying for the entire meeting demonstrates your respect for the firm, and allows you to learn more about their side of the business. Understanding some of the challenges they face, changes in regulations or operating procedures, and just being more in tune with the market all help you to provide a better foundation to be perceived as a true expert in your field. Additionally, by remaining until the end of a meeting, it allows the people who don’t want to ask questions in front of their peers to see you one-on-one afterward. It also allows you to network with others throughout the office afterward.

 

Showing up at sales meetings on a consistent basis is crucial. Attending meetings once a month or (at the very least) once every quarter is recommended.

 

The fourth key is to:

IV. PROVIDE AGENTS WITH HIGH-QUALITY, CAN’T-DO-WITHOUT INFORMATION

Become their source for answering questions of any kind relating to property inspections, construction, condition issues, etc. Some real estate agents think they just need to get a property inspection from you, but with increasing professional liability of Realtors®, more and more they really need a professional who can consistently provide them with accurate information about the inspection process, to help protect them from a negative outcome.

 

Focus your presentation on topics that are directly relevant to agents, such as energy efficiency, new construction techniques, new legislation, or environmental concerns. Don’t let the sharing of your expertise be limited to sales meetings, or even the inspections you perform for your agents. Assist them in any way you can. You will become the expert in their eyes, and referrals will follow.

 

If you’re able to utilize these four strategies and demonstrate respect at sales meetings by attending the entire meeting, visiting the same offices on a regular basis, being personable and approachable during your visits, and becoming their primary source of information about property inspections, you will set yourself apart as THE inspector to ask questions of, and refer clients to, for many years to come.

 

Now is the time to make appointments to visit real estate agent sales meetings. Many inspectors are extra busy now as the market has strengthened, but to keep your referral pipeline full, you must make time to create and maintain relationships within the Realtor® community. This work is an ongoing part of being a successful business owner.