In times of economic downturn, building maintenance services are in high demand as people choose to stay put and fix up where they are rather than buying somewhere new. This is, therefore, a good sector to invest in at the moment!
Building maintenance is an eclectic business category, including all services related to a property's upkeep.
It can include plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, roofing, glazing, painting and decorating, heating engineering, fire safety system maintenance, locksmiths, pest control and even property grounds maintenance fields such as landscaping and lawn maintenance.
What do these diverse range of businesses have in common that can be crystallized into some useful tips for running a business?
Success factors in the ‘trades’
Well these are all ‘trades’ and you can certainly generalize that regulatory compliance, upholding high standards of workmanship and being friendly, transparent and honest with customers are all vital given that much business is won or lost on recommendations or online customer reviews.
Tradespeople, few of which have business qualifications, should also put aside time for business development: regularly reappraising their business model, target customers and potential areas for diversification.
How you optimise your operations will differ depending on whether you have started your business from scratch or are browsing building maintenance businesses for sale or recently underwent the process of buying a building maintenance business.
If you’ve acquired a flourishing business then beware of implementing change for change’s sake. However, there is always room for improvement, for example by switching to suppliers with a wider range of tools and materials at lower prices.
Take time out of your busy schedule to think about the future.
Are you resilient against, or ready to exploit, changes in patterns of demand or emerging technologies?
You could, for instance, insulate yourself from downturns by diversifying into more recession-proof areas. Imagine a kitchen installation company that diversifies into more superficial but also more cost-effective kitchen facelifts.
Alternatively, you might pivot to using sustainable materials and following eco-friendly working practices as both consumers and the government become more favourable to environmentally conscious businesses.
Periodically review how your customer base breaks down and whether various factors – such as your skillset, and shifts in levels of competition and demand in any given market – make it wise to reorient your focus.
Whether you primarily target businesses, property landlords, or private households, office buildings or retailers, this should inform your marketing strategy – for example through the keywords you SEO-optimize for, or the tone, content and targeting of fliers and social media posts.
As we’ve mentioned, much business is won through websites like TrustaTrader, Checkatrade, MyBuilder, and Rated People. It’s therefore worth finding out which recommendation sites are most productive for tradespeople and signing up to a few.
However, it’s also worth noting the continuing importance of word-of-mouth recommendations (partly because not everyone trusts recommendation sites).
Nevertheless, recurrent complaints in low-rated reviews offer a useful indicator of the dos and don’ts of reputation building.
Fair pricing, honest communication
Exceptional customer service will help you nurture long-term relationships with clients and generate invaluable repeat custom. This means returning calls promptly, listening to the customer’s needs and communicating your solutions clearly.
Be transparent upfront about the price – hitting people with unexpected costs after completion is unethical and counterproductive in reputational terms.
Your pricing should reflect the cost of materials, and a reasonable margin or hourly rate for you and your staff that, of course, should be informed by the supply and demand of such services.
Compliance and workmanship
Joining a trade association will burnish your credibility, while rigorous compliance with health and safety rules and taking out public liability insurance will avoid truly grave consequences.
Also, resist the temptation to take on jobs for which you lack the requisite skills and equipment – although you could bring in a subcontractor.
The work itself should, of course, be executed to a high standard. Admittedly, cowboy operators can prosper when demand for their services outstrips supply – but their reputation can catch them out if the economy hits a rough patch or they get into legal trouble.
Be punctual and try to stick to promised timelines – but not if it involves cutting corners.
And last impressions count, so tidy up after yourself when you finish a job. Again, this could be the difference between a three- and four-star average online rating.
Finally, having the right technologies, such as online booking, customer relationship management and job management apps or software, can help you achieve much of the above.