How I Did It: Brent Simmerman

In our new series, “How I Did It,” we’ll profile home inspectors who overcame a specific challenge, whether it be finding that killer marketing strategy, getting over a slow patch, taking your inspection business to the next level or something else entirely. For the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring this series in an effort to show how successful home inspectors have overcome business hurdles and how you can do it too.

To kick off the series, we wanted to focus on a situation most home inspectorsfaceÔÇörunning a one-person shop. Brent Simmerman, owner of┬áMidlands Home Inspections, Inc.┬áin Papillion, Nebraska has been doing that for the last five years. A former construction worker and printing press operator, Brent jumped into home inspection only to find that being the chief inspector, marketing director, operations manager, accountant, bookkeeper and janitor isn’t easy. Here’s how he found balance.

The Problem:┬áYou can’t do it all…and you shouldn’t. According to the US Small Business Administration, more than half of all small businesses fail within the first five years of opening. A big reason is that there’s too much work to do, too few resources and never enough time to get everything done. For single-person home inspection companies, human resources are even more crunched.

The Solution:┬áDo what you do best and hire the rest out. “My biggest tip is realizing that other people need to come in and help,” says Simmerman. “I tried doing my accounting myself and it’s just gotten to the point where I can’t do that without being at the computer 24 hours a day. I’ve finally gotten an accountant to do it. I’ve finally gotten someone to do my marketing for me. That frees up my time to do inspections.”

The catch is that outsourcing certain tasks requires capital-something many home inspection firms are short of. Before hiring outside help, Simmerman spent several months perfecting his networking techniques-spoiler: go through the DETI database of real estate offices in your area and get friendly with the person working the front desk.

“[They] can introduce me to real estate agents that are in that day or they’ll hear gossip about who’s not happy with their home inspectors,” Simmerman says. “I’ll get an introduction from the secretary so it’s not a cold call.”

Simmerman’s real advantage is that he regards his time as a valuable resource and analyzes where it’s going and where it’s paying off as closely as many business owners do money. To ensure that he was making the most of his time before hiring outside help, Simmerman examined what networking strategies were working, what strategies were bringing in new customers and what was wasting his day.

“Once you start a business, you get hundreds of calls from anybody and everybody wanting to marketing for you. You get all kinds of crazy calls for people wanting money,” he explains. “…Golf courses call me all the time wanting me to sponsor a hole for an event, but the general public isn’t going to see that. I try to stay as focused on real estate agents as I can.”

Simmerman found that his time was better spent networking through his BNI group, attending local chamber of commerce events and strategically focusing his time on places where he knew real estate agents and those looking for homes hang out. In the next few months, he plans to allot more time and resources on wooing direct buyers, carefully measuring what strategies work and what doesn’t.

“Real estate agents are constantly revolving. You get a good relationship going with one and then they’ll be out of the picture in a year or so,” he says. “We plan to redo our web site and boost our internet presence. We’ll see if that pays off.”

How Do Home Inspectors Make Contact?

We wanted to know how real home inspectors personalize their businesses, so we made it our question of the month. Here’s what’s working for you:

“I try to maintain periodic contact with all of my previous clients, via email. Several times a year, I’ll pass on maintenance tips, mold and radon (indoor air quality) information or information about recalled products from the Consumer Product Safety Council…I receive a lot of positive response from this. In staying on the front page with my clients, they are quick to refer me to friends and family. In slow times (which we have all seen too much of), I send out emails to my previous clients offering annual maintenance evaluations of their homes, with energy conservation tips provided.”

~ Mark Cordle, CEO of Echota Home Inspections in Atlanta, Georgia

“I invite all of my clients to take a survey on the quality of the inspection report. Once they do, they’re entered into a drawing to win a $25 gift certificate to Home Depot. I also follow up after a while to let them know that they can contact me an ask questions even after they’ve moved in.”

~ Michael Wirth, home inspector and co-founder of Tap Inspect in Louisville, Kentucky

“I simply give them the best inspection and report there is. I spend all the time that’s necessary explaining items and concerns during the inspection. I am not afraid to recommend the tradesmen I have used for years in my building business. I treat every client like family. No gimmicks or tricks, just the best experience possible!”

~ Jim Dietrich, AAA Home Inspections in Flushing, Michigan

Checking In with Gary Smith

The Mississippi-based home inspector uses location-based apps to drum up business.

In real estate, they say that only three things matter-location, location,┬álocation. Gary Smith, owner of SafeHome Inspections in Ridgeland, Mississippi, is proving that the same is true of home inspectors.Smith says that one of the most effective marketing strategies he employs uses location-based mobile apps like Facebook to let future customers know where he works, to get the word out to local real estate agents and contractors and to establish himself as THE home inspection expert in the area. Here’s how he does it.

The Goal: To get his name in front of every potential home buyer and real estate agent that may do business in a specific area.

The Strategy: Check-In Marketing. To target home buyers, home owners and real estate agents in a specific neighborhood, Smith uses Facebook’s location-based apps to get his name out and to show that he has a client base in that locale. When smart phone and mobile device users in the area check into local restaurants, coffee shops or retail establishments through Facebook, Smith’s name and nearby work history also pops up.

The Method: “After I inspect a house, the first thing I do [as far as check-in marketing] is to look on Facebook and see if someone has created a subdivision name of the area I’m inspecting,” says Smith. “If they haven’t, I create that subdivision name and then I post a picture of the real estate sign of the listing agent in that area and any interesting photos of the front of the subdivision. I’m very careful not to list the address of the home or particular information about the home. That’s pretty private, but I do take photos of anything interesting in the subdivision, such as a lake or playground…”

“It only takes me about 20 seconds to take a photo of the subdivision where I’m inspecting a home, but, over time, you wind up with a dynamic that allows you to increase your visibility on Facebook. Now whenever I return to that area, I can check in and every time I do, it allows me to share that information and those pictures on my personal [Facebook] page and on pages of other locations I’ve created.”

“Every time I check in, it posts that I’m there, doing an inspection, being active in that area to anyone who may be looking at that page. I also share photos of other services [real estate service professionals, etc] while I’m in the neighborhood. It’s a co-branding opportunity and spreads the news that other trusted services work that area. Now the next time someone checks in at the Wal-Mart near that subdivision, they will see that there’s a home inspector or other real estate service in the area who’s doing work. It becomes free advertising.”

“Once the page is up and running, anyone involved in real estate in that area can also help it grow by posting their activity on the pages. Pretty soon, we have builders, agents, contractors, anyone who might be involved in property in that area, building the page up and drawing more attention to it.”

The Result: Better web traffic targeted specifically to home buyers in his area without investing much time. “What we’re finding too is that some of the pages are beginning to show up in Google searches for locations/areas [SafeHome Inspections] they weren’t before,” says Smith. “Since Facebook allows all business pages to be seen by search engines outside the Facebook domain, we’re getting free advertising both to people who check in using [location-based apps] and to those just searching on Google…For me, this is local advertising, [a kind] that targets people who live within 20 to 30 miles of my area of focus. If the majority of the neighborhoods in that area have my contact information in the check-ins, I’m certainly ahead of the game.”

Home inspectors who are interested in seeing how Gary’s location-based marketing works can check out the Ridgeland, Mississippi Real Estate page here.

Question of the Month: Advice from Home Inspectors

Home inspectors across the country give their best advice on the topic of the month. This month’s question is:

What’s the most effective marketing decision you’ve ever made for your home inspection business?

“By far joining a BNI group.”
~ John Keener, owner of Mountaineer Inspection Services in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

“Make sure the BNI group has a strong power team of real estate professionals that can refer you business. Examples would be real estate agents, loan officers, insurance agents, skilled tradesmen, etc.”
~ Lee Harless, owner of Safe and Sound Inspection Service in Huntington, West Virginia.

“Getting someone ELSE to answer my phone so I don’t interrupt an inspection with a sales call and get both parties upset.”
~ Bob Sisson, owner of Inspections By Bob in Boyds, Maryland.

“…Indoor air quality and mold testing and writing scopes of work account for 40 percent of my business. I also do commercial inspections and expert witness work. So I would say diversification is a strong marketing tool.”
~ Jim Dietrich, owner of AAA Home Inspections in Flushing, Michigan.

Question of the Month for Home Inspectors

Home inspectors across the country give their best advice on the topic of the month. This month’s question is:

Before I got into the home inspection business I wish someone had told me…

“… if there’s damp soil under the home it might be from a leaky waste pipe and you probably shouldn’t crawl through it. Let’s just say that I found out the hard way that it can be highly infectious!” ~ Bud Hayes, LaRocca Inspection Associates, headquartered in Sunland, CA.

 

“… how important quality control is. It’s important to be proactive, I always call back clients and real estate agents in order to see if there are any concerns about the report.” ~ Dave Short, LaRocca Inspection Associates, headquartered in Sunland, CA.

 

“Three things: 1. That I should take my best estimate for how much start-up and operating expenses will be-and then┬ádouble┬áthe number. ┬áThis will get your estimate in the ballpark. ┬á2. That the home inspection business requires a love for learning technical information. If you don’t love reading technical information, don’t get into the business. Education and re-education is a constant for home inspectors and reading fiction will need to be replaced by reading about construction matters. ┬á3. That if you want to grow to be a muli-inspector firm, the road will be long and you must develop marketing mastery.” ~ David Swartz, Advantage Inspection Service, Phoenix, AZ.

“… you just need to test and report the condition of a system, don’t try to figure out why something isn’t working. That became evident when I pulled the cover off of a pool heater filled with gas and lost some of what little hair I have left!” ~ Garett Martell, LaRocca Inspection Associates, headquartered in Sunland, CA.