Sunday, February 26, 2006

Business Plans for Builders of Decks and Fences

Business Plans for Builders of Decks and Fences.
Business plans are a necessity for any business, whether it is retail or a builder of decks and fences. Here are a few elements we coach our licensees to include in their business plans:
Marketing Plan, even if it is primarily word of mouth/networking. We ask them to treat even those activities as a job--with goals and quotas.
Include an analysis of your competition. (Critique of their business from an outsider).
Perform a realistic analysis of your challenges and advantages. The entire business plan should utilize feedback and opinions from people not connected, related to or dependent upon your business. Important to get impartial advice when hatching a plan.
Address Economic Expectations. What if interest rates shoot to 15% (a reality not that long ago), or a prolonged war were to happen, or terrorists attacked your city? How would your business cope and thrive? Disaster scenarios are a useful exercise. Things like that will go a long way towards tightening up your strategy and increasing your confidence as well as your lenders.
A business plan will help you identify goals—this enables you to do away with activities in business that don’t help you achieve those goals.
Your business plan can contain many things that most other folks don't include... get creative.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Designing decks and fences

Where do designs for decks and fences come from?

Designing decks and fences is a challenge in the beginning.

Any art—has to be developed. I don’t believe anyone is “born to be great”, skills are developed, challenges are met, practice makes it easy. If I were born a great designer my childhood first lean to structure in the woods would have looked more like a castle than the pile of sticks that ended up falling down.

I can remember Bob Bateman (my HS art teacher) asking me not to return to his art class since I just had no natural talent. Cheers Bob— and thanks.

We all start out the same way—copying, emulating and building our skills. Eventually, your own style will evolve. Some are very different than the norm—some are closer to the normal in appearance.

I was fortunate that my designs had to be toned down 90% in the early days. People simply wouldn’t take the chance. Not much call for driveway gates that resemble Angel’s wings anyhow.


Friday, February 17, 2006

The Environment and your Deck Business

Choose your Deck Business location carefully. You will be at the mercy of your environment both weather wise, economic and even phone service is a factor.

I am located in a little oasis of houses in the middle of farmer's fields to the south east of georgian bay. For about 500 miles cold wind over open (warmer water) picks up moisture and dumps it here in the form of snow. Add 50-60 mph wind and outside our little cluster of houses you can see 3-5' or- looking out your propped open car door you may be able to see the line on the pavement in spots.

Obviously, I'm going nowhere today.

This happens about 10-12 days a year. It's just part of living here and I don't mind. Clients you have to cancel or delay appts for often do--but in this kind of situation they will have to understand.

This is a fairly healthy community with plenty of work for a deck builder within an hour. Barrie and Collingwood are 1/2 hour away, but you have to factor in traveling time to your pricing.

Locating in a depressed economy will mean low prices for what you do--and likely considerable competition.

Here's another quirk to my location. I have 2 phone lines--that's all I can get. I am also on a dialup internet connection. No phone or cable company can help. Even sattelites don't work 5 or 6 days a year. They have no plans to install the equipment to enable high speed here.

With 2-3,000 emails coming in a day, and a site getting 10,000 visits a day staying is an impossibility.

There are many considerations to locating your deck business.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Confidence and your deck company.

It takes confidence to build a better deck company.

This morning my 3 year old woke up and informed us that “I’m 5 now”. In his mind—he can do anything. We are not born with a defeatist attitude.

Back in grade school I had numerous teachers along with my parents line up to clear any thoughts from my head of doing anything outside their believed field of reach.

“You Can’t Do That!”, “You’ll never be able to achieve that!—Don’t even think about trying to do that”.

It’s not their fault. That’s what they were taught—and that’s what they teach us.

If you attended a public school (like I did), you may just require some de-programming.

Think up 5 things you can’t do…. The fastest things to come to their mind.

You can’t become the president

You can’t become the best mathematician

You can’t be an investment mogul

You can’t become a senator

Or maybe it looks like this… You can’t do _______, You don’t or Never Will have enough money, power or invluence to do something like _________.

Good… Take your mental chalk brush… wipe it away. Those truths as you know it no longer exist.

There is nothing you cannot do.
Accept it--believe it--live by it.

Here is a truth.

The public school system’s purpose in the early days was to “Create better workers for the factory owners”. This is why—quite inadvertently, the public school system still strips the students of confidence and positive mental attitude.

There are many great teachers in the public system—who normally didn’t attend a private school. Without attending private school the belief in one’s own abilities is missing or dampened somewhat. If they have not got the “private education attitude”, they simply cannot transfer that attitude to the students.

Once you recognize this fact your perception of reality changes radically.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Search Directories for Deck and Fence Builders

Deck, Fence and Renovation Directories

There are millions of directories for numerous subjects and headings. I am not mentioning any—they don’t need marketing from my little blog. What I can say is that competition is good—to a point.

The infiltration into Google, MSN and Yahoo (the three major search engines) by thousands of directories is negating the whole reason the web was created.

Even the phone companies are getting in on the act. That should tell you something.
When the phone directories are creating on-line directories it means that the internet has reached a critical mass.

Check out Boston Decks as an example. 7 directory sites, a british deck builder and two cruise lines. Not a single deck builder there. (check it again in a week or so and we’ll have top position). That’s where our newest associate is and we’ll put him near the top in short order.

Soon enough the search engines will change things up enough to get those directories scrambling to get back on the list.

That’s the thing about subscribing to the directory sites—they may have good ranking today, but they may not be anywhere to be found very soon.

Go Pro .ca was one of the big shots in the directory business—building and selling websites and driving plenty of traffic.

Check out their stats. This is like a study of when Google changes the rules. Every time the search engines changed the rules—their traffic tumbled.

Go Pro Stats here

The other downside of directories—just like the phone book, they attract shoppers. Shoppers will use up your time, and a few other contractors while they dig for the lowest possible price. These folks will cost you production time and plenty of money when you are selling against 10 other Contractors.

Whenever you are bidding against numerous other companies for the same job your sales ratio will plummet. That’s where marketing comes in. When you have more leads you get to choose which are the best opportunities to invest your time in.

Spend Carefully—


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Honorability-crediting Designers and Builders

Credit Designers-- It's only fair!

Designers, Builders, photographers and contractors all have a stake in and claim credit to their work. At times--the lines of protocol are a little fuzzy.

It goes something like this normally.

If you designed it or contracted the design and your crews installed it you can claim it as your own work. If you designed it... claim the design-- If you built it... Claim the installation--if you contracted it... Claim the contract.

But not...

If you were the landscape contractor--you can claim the entire job as your own--even if you didn't contract, design or pay for the design of the project or even install all the elements.

Now, I want to get this right. Photography and Stone work by Markville Landscaping, plantings by Markville Landscaping. The original Concept designs were by Elizabeth Tschoppe Garden Design and the woodwork detailing, shop drawings and installation was by Winterburn Group ( the web site was developed).
I can tell you that this company featured our work on the cover of their brochures for a few years--without credit.

We chatted about numerous jobs over the years--however the owner always wanted credit--as he assumed it on this job, which simply wasn't right. Since I knew he wasn't giving us credit for the work we did, we simply refused to do any more work for him.

This job is about 10 years old now. Water under a very old bridge. Nowadays we would shut someone down for just that kind of thing... but it doesn't seem this guy has made millions from claiming our work was his own--likely just barely stayed in business. In our original area of operations we are likely one of the most emulated of companies... we are happy to be so well respected by our competition.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Pricing Decks Fences and Pergolas

Pricing Decks, Fences and Pergolas is easy right?

Just collect the flyers that come to your door, call all your competition in the phone book and have them out for a free estimate at your house… Then put your price in the middle of the pack.
Or… Not.

Look—Some of the guys in the Deck and Fence business don’t have a clue. Some of them are con artists that collect deposits and never come back. Some are part time pressure treated jockeys and have regular jobs—some are on employment insurance and only have to make $5.00 per hour.

Would you compete with someone working for free?

Do you think that those guys working for free will actually honor warranty service on something that was lacking structurally?

Apples should not be compared to rotten apples.

Every time a factory closes there are 50 new contractors with shiny new trucks, business cards and cool logos. No business training—little sales ability—they are all competing and selling on price alone.

Without profit the business is doomed.

Try Calculating a price based on your costs, your pay and profit calculated in.

I’m not going to include pricing here—since we help all our builders set their pricing so that they make profit—Real profit so that they can build a real business.


Sabotaging Sales of Decks and Fences

Top 10 ways to sabotage Sales ( Selling Decks and Fences)

  1. Miss the appointment (then don’t call for a week or two—or ever)

  2. Arrive late.

  3. Arrive intoxicated—worse still if you choose to partake in a beverage if offered during the estimate.

  4. Close talking—Loud Talking—Arrogance, Ignorance or generally abrasive attitude.

  5. Arrive at the quote without a portfolio—or use an unimpressive collection of photos.

  6. Smell of cigarettes.

  7. Try to sell a plastic deck to someone who knows too much about it.

  8. Arrive in a truck that is an obvious state of disrepair. (Park a few houses away—better to just fix the truck or lease a newer vehicle)

  9. Get into discussion of political or religious nature with the clients.

  10. Arrive unprepared to sell—no contracts, no design materials, no tape measure.

There are hundreds of ways to minimize your chances of making the sale. When you make a mistake or don’t get the sale simply ask the client why. 90% of the time they will be brutally honest. It is a task well worth doing. It will help you grow thick skin and give you a road map for future estimates.