2013 September-October Issue

Contractors, the time has arrived to modernize, save money, and get digital. Technology has changed dramatically over the past 5 years to your benefit. So much so that you can no longer ignore the importance and advantages of using some digital technology to your advantage. And the best part for you is that it’s so Read more

Contractors, the time has arrived to modernize, save money, and get digital. Technology has changed dramatically over the past 5 years to your benefit. So much so that you can no longer ignore the importance and advantages of using some digital technology to your advantage. And the best part for you is that it’s so inexpensive that it’s nearly free.

Recently, I was speaking to a professional in the industry who mentioned that there were some contractors who just purchased their very first fax machine. I was a little shocked, not that it took so long to have fax capability but because a hardware device was purchased. Fax machines alone are not very expensive depending on its capabilities, but somewhere around the $100 range for an average model. But then there is the cost of the fax line from a local carrier and any extra cost for ink for every fax that comes through. For some contractors, having fax capabilities are necessary. However, there is a much simpler, streamlined, and cost effective method. It’s using online fax services. They provide you the fax number and all communication is done online. Instead of printing a document and faxing it, you can simply fax it right from you computer or even from your smart phone. In addition, faxes can be sent directly to your email address automatically, no extra fee in a PDF format. If you’re looking for an important fax and you’re on the road, this can be very convenient to receive a fax directly to your smart phone anytime and anywhere.

Many of these same companies, among others, also provide online phone services. For some operations, a receptionist is necessary. But some businesses need to save under this economy but still offer a professional service and quick response to their customers. Without a receptionist, you can always have a customer contact your cell phone. But you may prefer to also have an office number or may have several employees out on the road at once, leaving the office empty. Instead of using an answering machine, you can use online phone services that are inexpensive and extremely flexible to meet any contractor’s need. Want customers to be greeted professionally and have calls routed to various employees or business owners on their cell phone whole on the road? No problem. If they don’t answer, would you like the customer’s message to be left in the main phone system message box? Sure, no problem. How about having any messages emailed directly to you, whether on your computer or smart phone, in an mp3 format? Sure, that’s easy. No more waiting to get back to the office to see if any new customers have called. It comes to you instantly. In addition, the cost of online phone and fax systems is minimal. Some can be as little as $7 – $10 per month depending on your need.

How many of you have recently started your new business or perhaps you would like to rebrand your business? It’s simple and can be quite fun actually. There are tremendous online resources to produce and design a new logo, business cards, brochures, and more for your business in a contest format. The best part is how it works and the benefit to you. You simply use on of multiple websites available and enter your need and design requirements. Then thousands of developers from around the world can compete to win your “design contest”. You may receive 80, 90, or well over 100 designs from various designers from all over the globe. And you only pay the winner of your choosing. How can you beat that? Each website and contest offers something unique that you can choose to your liking and budget. But instead of paying someone to develop several designs that you do not like, only to pay again and start over, these online contests offer a tremendous advantage for any company and any budget. You can easily take a look at the quality of designs being produced as well on each site. I recently read a story of a fortune 500 company spending several million dollars just for their logo, when I saw the result, I was quite unimpressed. Logos are important as they offer a unique identity. But they also can be overthought. Think of the simplicity of the Facebook logo, yet it’s identifiable.

The greatest area of need for contractors is in obtaining your first, or upgrading your company website. This technology has seen the most dramatic transformation of them all. It used to be, even several years ago, that if you wanted a professional looking website, you would need to spend a minimum of $10,000 or far more. Otherwise you were left with a simple static website that looked like it was built by you, or a relative or something in their spare time. They were mainly a few pages of text, maybe a few pictures, and even a contact form. But the overall look was not pretty and looked very “texty” than professional and beautiful. But hey, your contractors right? Where’s the beauty in some pipes and drains? Well it’s much more than that. Think of it like this; imagine treating your wife or some friends to a nice steak dinner on a Saturday night. Perhaps you heard of a place having great steaks and you show up and the building looks like it’s about to fall down. The restaurant sign can barely be seen and is tilted sideways, the paint is chipping everywhere, the parking lot is full of deep potholes, minimal lighting, and the entrance is hard to find as it’s in an awkward position. Then you walk in and the hostess can’t be found so you wait, then she shows up in very old dirty clothing with holes. The entire inside is dusty, dirty, dingy, and looks like it has never been cleaned since its grand opening 50 years ago. You see some tables that aren’t even washed as she proceeds to seat you and your group. How quickly is it before you want to pick up and leave to a restaurant that is much more presentable for your wife or friends. The steak may be great, but what good does it do if nobody wants to even stay to find out. Or perhaps you heard of a great restaurant but can’t even find it. How many of you don’t even have a website for your business.

This has been the norm in the contractor community unfortunately. Perhaps it’s because of the cost to have a website developed for your business. Well, that has now changed all due to a website platform called WordPress. Today, you can have one of the most professional looking websites for as little as $40. That’s right, $40. The reason is all because something called a “theme”. A theme is basically like a house built on a good foundation. The foundation and structure is very sturdy and stable but the inside can be changed to look however you want and whenever you want. Themes are similar, they are websites built upon the WordPress platform but they have their own look and feel to them and can be changed at anytime. In the past, themes were very basic and offered little in your ability to change the look of the theme you purchased. It was kind of “What you see is what you get”. But now, technology has changed so much that each them has thousands or almost an infinite amount of variations to make it look exactly like you want. 10 years ago, some of these same themes for $40 or $60 would have cost well over $30,000. But now, even the smallest of businesses with the smallest budget can have an amazing, professional, beautiful, and very functional website for almost no cost.

In addition, these themes no longer require a programming degree or years of website study and development. Yes you too can build your own website. Of course there is always some minor learning that you go through as with anything you buy these days, just as you would learning how to use a smart phone or iPad for the first time. But it can be quite simple. Most themes simply use drag and drop systems to design your own website. You simply design it in a way you want your company represented the first time someone comes across your business. What message do you want them to see? Are you more of a Kitchen & Bath specialist, you may want to have a more image and graphic website for customers to see your work and capabilities that can be very powerful. Or perhaps you offer 24hour service, this is something that can be the main highlight, or perhaps you have or want to produce videos. With WordPress, this step can be 1-2-3. You simply upload your video to YouTube, copy and paste a code into the section you prefer on your website and instantly your YouTube video plays through your website, even though it was uploaded to YouTube.

For contractors, this technology is simply too good to pass up on. There is no budget too small for any contractor not to have a website. It never will replace referrals, hard work, and running a business with integrity. But it’s an increasingly becoming a digital world that can be used as an advantage. This is unlike social media that can come with all the other headaches of non-business conversations and can be very time consuming. A website is basically the very fist location people go to now days to investigate and research whether or not they want to consider doing business with a company. How many of you pull out your smart phone to go on the web to look something up whether it’s the latest news or your about to buy a new TV and you want to see who has it at the best price. Why shouldn’t contractors be just as visible in their services? Especially for $40 – $60.

WordPress is an open source platform that is by far the most flexible and resourceful website platform available in the world. Because it’s open source, it means that there are contributors and developers around the globe that help to continually make it the most powerful, useful, and affordable website program in the world. This is to your advantage. For instance, perhaps you decide at some point you want a little help with the website from some developer. You have thousands of developers at your disposal rather than having to be constrained to using some local company that built your website on a proprietary platform that us unknown to other developers. That’s a recipe for disaster and high expenses. In addition, there are thousands of resources available to help anyone with their website. In fact, with the purchase of many themes, you can simply ask the theme developer questions in their support forums for additional help at no extra cost.

And get this. Let’s say that after 3 years or so you have built up a lot of information on your website but you decide it’s time for a change, a completely new look. WordPress can handle that in a jiff. Simply get a new theme, upload it with a click, make a few minor tweaks to the layout to make it look how you want, and “voila”, you have a brand new looking website with all of your old data in tact. That’s the beauty and power of WordPress.

In addition, WordPress is extremely Search Engine friendly as it comes somewhat SEO (Search Engine Optimization) ready. That’s extremely important because being ranked higher when someone searches for contractors in their area on Google, you want to be at or near the top. It’s not quite set-it and forget it to get ranked high without paying a fee to Google, but it’s minimal. And even if you did set it and forget it, your still probably ahead of some other contractors simply because of the SEO backbone built into WordPress compared to their website.

How can you pas up this opportunity to upgrade or finally get your very first website for your contractor business? The cost is minimal and now, you too can finally have one of the most professional, powerful, functional, and beautiful websites in the industry for less than $100.

Here’s the simple process. Pick out your website name on Go Daddy or some other domain name company. Sign up with a hosting company of your choice for about $5 per month. Install WordPress, typically a one-click installation. Purchase the WordPress theme of your choice. Upload the new them through the auto theme installer for WordPress. Add pages, your information, and adjust some settings to your liking. When it’s ready, simply point the domain name you have registered to point the hosting company of your website and your new website is live. Of course the process can take some time to get it just the way you want, And if you need help, there are thousands of helpful resources to help you build your website. Or contact me, and I can help you.

But the time has come for contractors to take advantage of useful digital tools that are extremely cost effective and allow you to do-it-yourself. Whether it’s phone and fax systems, logos, brochures, or getting your very first website. It’s simply too good of a deal to pass up during an economy like this.  So contractors, it’s the perfect time to get digital, modernize, and use 21st century technology to your advantage. After all, it’s practically free.

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By Dave Duren Believe it or not…when I’m out in the field as I’m headed to San Diego right now…the most asked question I’ll get is “what exactly is softening?” And if they don’t asked…I’ll be bringing it up! If you asked 99% of the legitimate water treatment companies and or manufacturers; they respond by Read more

By Dave Duren

Believe it or not…when I’m out in the field as I’m headed to San Diego right now…the most asked question I’ll get is “what exactly is softening?” And if they don’t asked…I’ll be bringing it up!

If you asked 99% of the legitimate water treatment companies and or manufacturers; they respond by saying…Water softening is the “removal of mineral” from the water….plan and simple.

And mineral for the purpose of this article is mostly calcium and magnesium.  (Other metals are also removed by the ion exchange process)I’m going to be talking about ion exchange process from here on out for clarification. So let’s review what is actually going on in that what softener. Inside of a water softener are millions of tiny beads that are man-made of a plastic material. They have a negative charge. Mineral has a positive charge. Water with mineral in it passed through the bed of “resin” and the mineral clings to these beads. As they cling, they release some sodium ions. This is where the term “exchange” comes into play. After a certain period of time the beads become full of mineral or as we say the bed becomes exhausted and it needs to regenerate. This process involves drawing a brine (“salty”) solution into the bed which flushes the mineral away and down the drain while allowing more sodium ions to cling to the beads to get ready for more actual softening.

There are basically three ways this whole process occurs. The first way is manually. Someone tells the unit the time when to start and stop. The second way is with an automatic time clock. The time clock is set to regenerate every certain amount of days. A couple of reliable industry valves have a 12 day wheel on them to control this period. This involves sliding out pins that trip the unit into the process every set amount of days, like every third day or so. The third and probably most popular these days is a metered system. This involves some type of water meter that will kick the unit into regeneration when a set amount of water has passed through it.

So to continue, if mineral is not REMOVED from water through ion exchange softening then some other method is used to try to prevent it from sticking to surfaces, (inside of pipes, inside of heaters and exchangers, showerheads, shower doors..etc.) And you might ask WHY it is sticking to surfaces anyway. This is due to the positive valence or polarity of the mineral itself. Many of the reputable companies use the term “Conditioning” or “Management” but do not say softening in their explanation as to how this gets done. So with that, I’ve broken this down into 4 general methods that are used although there may be other methods out there.

  • Magnets and electricity
  • Adding polyphosphates
  • Creating acid water, mostly using citric acid
  • Media based methods

Let’s talk about these in a general way. First magnets and electricity are merely an attempt to change the polarity of the mineral elements in the water. They are not easily changed and many revert back to their original state if ever changed in the first place.

Secondly are polyphosphates. They have been around a good long while. This product coats the inside of the pipes and anything downstream with a thin layer of itself situating itself between the water and surface. It also coats the mineral element and prevents it from attaching to other things. This method is good in some applications.

Thirdly, acid water created by using citric acid or other chemical is added to the water to reduce the ph of the water making it “acidic”. Acidic water then has a tendency to make the mineral not want to stick to surfaces. This method can work at times but also reduces all of the water’s ph and now introduces acid water to the entire plumbing system.

The fourth method is using medias. There are a few different ones on the market and they basically create an atmosphere wherein that the mineral either sticks to it or sticks to itself or another particle of something that is introduced into the water.

None of the above methods removes or even reduces mineral from the water but once again, merely tries to “control” the mineral’s positive polarity and prevent it from sticking to surfaces. Either inside the plumbing system on a surface (shower doors, dishes, showerheads, etc.) Some with some success and others with zero success. This is why “SALT-FREE SOFTENING” does not exist except in a few extreme cases using very expensive equipment and seldom seen in residential applications.  It is also worth mentioning that NSF, National Sanitation Foundation and WQA, Water Quality Association both have standards and protocols for testing Ion exchange softeners. So as I’ve stated before, this is a very good way to tell if the equipment you’re being asked about or you yourself is trying to sell, is legitimate. Going to either website would also be a great way of learning more about what they do as organizations.

All of the above areas would command their own article or series of articles so take this as an overview. I think that you as a contractor need to at least be aware of the terms and methods because you will probably be asked by a customer. I think that when asked “what is softening?” you can simply say….”it’s REMOVAL of mineral from the water and the best and most economical, tried and true method is an ion exchange softener. I think it would be perfectly OK for you to tell your customer “Buyer Beware”…especially if they are asking or maybe even trying to tell you about some super wiz product they found on the internet or so slick guy called and tried to sell them over the phone.

I’d like to add that research and development continues to look for another method of SOFTENING water for residential use that will be efficient and affordable (which is what?….RIGHT!…REMOVING MINERAL FROM THE WATER!) as growing demand for this type of system exists. Until then ion exchange softening is the way to go to get the desired effects of actual SOFT WATER.  Until next time…happy selling!

by Jim Hinshaw Just spent some time with a client over in California.  Would tell you their name, but they might not want you to know, cause they are doing things different.  Not everything, but lots.  So my son Jon developed a website for them years ago, and it rocks.  He has done the typical Read more

by Jim Hinshaw

Just spent some time with a client over in California.  Would tell you their name, but they might not want you to know, cause they are doing things different.  Not everything, but lots.  So my son Jon developed a website for them years ago, and it rocks.  He has done the typical SEO stuff (which I have no clue how that works, but he is a certified SEO guy, so he does), FaceBook, Linkedin, Twitter, doing it all.  Their website is updated and enhanced for search engines, they have secured their Google map locations, they are on Google +, it all works together.  They are spending some money on those applications, but they are getting lots of business from that investment.  It’s all about the payback.

Recently they were talking to Jon about the next steps.  You know, what can we do that is new, exciting, and profitable.  Jon said they needed to add a live chat feature.  You have seen that in many big business websites, United Airlines has a live chat feature.  Well, it is not exactly a live chat as it’s automated.  Not the same at all.  But Chevrolet has a live chat.  So Jon proceeded to add a live chat plugin.  The live chat works like this.  First of all, it rings up several phones in a sequence, so if one person is busy it rolls over to number two.   They also rotate names for the live chat person.  When someone rings in, they answer and ask how they can help, what questions the customer has.  You have choices, do you want to do live phone or message, either is possible.

So the first day, in fact in just a little over an hour, they got the first customer using the live chat feature.  And they had questions, and they got answers, and they sold them a new system after sending out a representative.  That fast.  So Jon had an answer to that question, what more can we do?  Even better, it had immediate results.

Now, I got a call as well last month from this same company.  Asking if I would help them walk through the company financial data.  They actually sent me over their financial statements, had me go through them on a conference call.  So we looked at the numbers, compared them to some benchmarks.  There were some questions, and they had answers up to the last number we looked at, the net profit.  I won’t say exactly, but the first digit was a 2.  And there was another digit on the left side of the decimal point.  Yes, they are running a multi-million dollar company with a 20% net profit.  Very nice.

Now, go with me to the Midwest this last week.  Met with several dealers, all sizes, all types.  At breakfast, the distributor rep and I had a meeting with a dealer who was involved in a large group that he pays substantial money to for business and marketing help.  He has also hired a consultant to help him with upper level business concerns: marketing, HR, compensation for all employees, succession plan, all kinds of things.

Hear me out, there is a parallel here.  Both of these companies have been in business for years, they are not new starts.  Both owners worked for someone else before hanging out their own shingle.  Both are putting together a foundation that will pay dividends, systems in place to succeed even if they are not there 60 hours a week.  In fact, both admitted they would like to work smarter, not harder.  And the most telling fact, both have retained outside council (OK, so that is a big word for consultant) to help them with this new work environment, new economy.  One other item of interest, both were successful and profitable the last few years, they just want to do better.

One element that runs through our industry all across the nation is this: if they have been in business for a while, they believe they know the business.  This is a new market, and it is not taking any prisoners.   Old ways of doing business will not work in this economy.  It is hard to get them to sit down for a two hour presentation, and many will not do that even if they have the time.  You absolutely have to be on your game today, the consumer is sharper than ever, has less time, and wants value in everything they purchase.

So do what these dealers did, question everything.  This life is not a dress rehearsal, this is live, and we only get one take.  Look at every part of your business, see what you can improve.  Make sure you are as efficient as possible, yet do what needs to be done and what you said you were going to do each and every time.  Trust me, it will not be easier next year, this is the new normal.  Thanks for listening, we’ll talk later.