* Buildfax provides info on the history of a home before buyers take the plunge. Through July 31, they’re giving away home background checks for free. Head here to check it out.
* Sure you can ID a crack in a home’s foundation from a mile away, but how good are you at keeping the books? Mint.com will import your business expenses directly from your business account and keep track of where the money is going.
* Route calls to multiple phones, save your voicemails online, and get voicemails transcribed and texted to your phone. One of the easiest ways to make a small business look large,Google Voice provides free phone numbers in the area code of your choosing AND clients to call one number and reach your home, cell, and office lines at the same time. A demo video explaining it all is available here.
* If you’re looking to add a video component to your online marketing plan, this is the place to do it. Blip.tv allows users to upload videos and podcasts for free.
* Find out whether clients are talking about your business online with free alerts sent to your inbox every day. Google Alerts allows you to enter searchable keywords like “John Doe Home Inspections” and monitor who’s talking about it and what they’re saying.
Entrepreneur Magazine is holding a video contest aimed at small business owners. Entrepreneurs who describe their AHA! moment, when they first decided to go into business for themselves wins serious bragging rights. Regardless whether you enter (the deadline is today, Yikes!), the most inspiring ones will be posted on the Entrepreneur blog throughout Independence Day weekend. We’d love to see some home inspectors represent!
Bob Sisson, owner of Inspections By Bob in Boyds, Maryland, built a home inspection business with higher prices than his competition and fewer real estate agent connections. Here’s how he did it:
Lesson #1: Franchises Are Easy to Enter, Hard to Leave
Bob Sisson: “I decided to go independent from day zero, so I had to start from a client base of zero. You hang out your shingle and hope someone would call. You beat the streets, you run into another inspector, and they say ‘Don’t put your card in that realtor’s box.’…It would have been easier if I had gone through a home inspection franchise where they feed you business, but I knew I wanted to run things on my own. That beginning though, it was difficult. Verydifficult.”
Lesson #2: Carve Your Niche
When competing with local inspectors for agents didn’t work, Sisson went a different route. “We started marketing directly to the end user through the web, rather than agents,” he says. “I’m one of six independent inspectors in the state of Maryland who pledges that they won’t market to realtors. That gets us a lot of business.” Instead of banking on agents to send him business, Sisson creates his own through direct marketing, pay per click advertising campaigns, maintaining a home inspection blog, and marketing through social media outlets. Recently Sisson was interviewed by Msn.com’s Real Estate section, in part because of his blog, and gained more business that way.
Lesson #3: Don’t Beat Competitors on Price
“That’s my number one comment to your readers,” Sisson says. “Beat them on service, beat them on something about your inspection, but don’t try to beat them by doing a $199 inspection on a single family home. People who do that hurt the industry greatly.” Instead of financially competing with local inspectors, Sisson researched what other inspectors were charging and used a cash flow calculator to determine how many inspections he’d need to do to make a living. With figures in hand, Sisson built his business putting customer service before price. With two Angie’s List awards under his belt, Sisson is currently one of the pricier inspectors in his area, but the clients keep coming in.
Lesson #4: Train the Staff
“Getting your phone answered in a professional manner will make a huge impact on your business,” Sisson says, adding that his wife answers his company line. “If you’re carrying your cell phone around on your inspection and say ‘Can I call you back?,’ that really doesn’t work. The client is going to call someone else in the meantime. The number one thing in our business is getting the phone answered quickly, politely and knowledgeably. My wife has more training than some of the new inspectors out there. When somebody asks a question about traps underneath sinks, she’s able to provide answers. She’s been in the classes. She can tell you what we do and why we do it. I send my wife to Inspection World each year and it’s worth it.”
Lesson #5: Go Pro or Go Home
“A lot of inspectors think that they need a tool kit, a cell phone, a ladder, and a car,” Sisson says. “To be successful, you need a lot more than that.” To take your company from one-man inspection service to full-scale business, Sisson says you need your own domain name, a professionally-built company website, an advertising budget, a newsletter, and a company vehicle worthy of a professional. Whatever you do, just don’t slap a magnetic sign with your logo onto a truck. “It’s unprofessional and it scares people,” Sisson says. “You can’t trust a magnetic sign.”
Check out Sisson’s company at Inspections By Bob.
Between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, Youtube, Tumblr, blogs, Flickr and the virtually endless barrage of new online tools coming out every day, it’s hard to figure out how you can maximize your online presence without devoting your life to social media. We asked three home inspectors to discuss what social media tools work best for their business and how they use the internet to draw in real-life clients.
Peter Walker, owner of A1 Property Inspections in Orange County, California, knows that when it comes to social media, you’ve got to give to receive. After posting on Facebook did not yield the type of clients he was looking for, Walker turned to LinkedIN and has quickly build a following of 800 to 900 real estate pros. Walker credits his online success (and all the additional business that came from it) to posting his thoughts about the industry on a regular basis and by connecting real estate professionals across the country. “If someone says ‘Hey! I need an inspector in Florida,’ I’ll look at my connections and see if any of them are there,” says Walker. “Once I’ve found someone, I’ll look at their [professional] memberships and look up one of their reports to make sure ‘yes, this guy is quality.'” Walker banks big when it comes time to return the favor. “First you reach out to people and then they’ll refer you,” he says. “Everyone knows someone who’s buying a building.”
Brandon Diggs of DHI Home Inspections in the Washington DC area can turn real estate agents into repeat business in 140 characters or less. In addition to regularly tweeting out tips aimed at home buyers, sellers and realtors, Digg saysthat Twitter works because allows him to search local agents, see what they’re talking about and reach out them in a direct, but unobtrusive way. “I also send out cold call e-mails that introduce myself to [area] realtors and I’ll send them my brochure,” Diggs says. “That’s very effective.”
Banking on Blogs
Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, founder of Your Houston Home Inspector, credits his blog for landing both clients and speaking gigs. Starting his blog in 2008, Shulte-Ladbeck gained followers by providing solid articles on this own site and by writing on other sites including Homefinder.com and Houstonrealestate.com. “I also started answering [home and housing-related] questions on sites like Yahoo! Answers and Answers.com,” Schulte-Ladbeck says. “I started to gain a little bit of authority that way.” Of course other social media tools helped too. Every time Frank posted a blog entry or answered a question, he used Facebook and Twitter to promote the post and drive traffic back to his blog. With approximately 6,000 monthly viewers, Schulte-Ladbeck’s blog has not only garnered clients and speaking gigs, but also interviews with national reporters. “If you’re going to be on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIN, you find a niche that works for you and you become known as a person who’s offering a solution. In my case, that’s talking about making a more energy and water efficient home,” he says. “You have to establish yourself as an authority and keep a consistent message.”
This article originally ran in our Tap Inspect newsletter. To start receiving our newsletter, click the “Join Our Mailing List” button on the right side of the screen.
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