Never limit yourself to one application. It is a good idea to specialize, yet diversifying your business is a better idea. Infrared is a proven technology in identifying common and popular applications; however, there are many applications that are virtually untapped in your operational area.
Do you infrared? Have you diversified your business with infrared or considered it in the past? My hope is that by reading this article, you will consider expanding your business to include infrared or expanding the number of applications you are offering within your existing business.
In 2007, I wrote a paper titled “From Houses to Horses,” explaining how, as a home inspector, I entered into something that I knew very little about...horses. It further describes how expanding my home inspection business several years earlier to include the technology of infrared further expanded my business opportunities. (To read the whole paper, check out this link to the 2007 InfraMation conference proceedings: http://socalinfrared.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/2007-038-Hopkins-From-Houses-to-Horses.pdf)
You can think of this article as the follow-up to that one.
Infrared has long proven to be a beneficial technology to identify common electrical and mechanical problems, as well as a tool to take a closer look at building roofs and walls. By definition, popular, proven and common infrared applications currently being used will see increasing competition due to the lack of sales skills needed to sell the service. Competition is inevitable. In turn, the question arises: How can you keep ahead of your competitors?
How have you diversified your business? According to merriam-webster.com, a simple search for the definition of the word “diversify” brings the following definition:
Main Entry: di·ver·si·fy
Inflected Form(s): di·ver·si·fied; di·ver·si·fy·ing
Date: 15th century
Transitive verb: 1. to make diverse…give variety to (diversify a course of study); 2. to balance (as an investment portfolio) defensively by dividing funds among securities of different industries or of different classes; 3. to increase the variety of the products of (diversify a business).
Intransitive verb: 1. to produce variety; 2: to engage in varied operations.
The definition of this word gives a simple description of “giving variety to.” It is often wisely suggested to diversify your investments, such as your financial portfolio, but what about the suggestion to diversify your business? Many business owners find success in only one specialty area; this would be like a hamburger restaurant selling only one type of hamburger or, better yet, an IR business that offers only electrical scans.
Why would a thermographer choose one specialty—electrical scans—to build their business? That thermographer is obviously more susceptible to failure, not only from the variety offered by their competitors (internal and external), but also from budget cuts by corporate managers who, in hard times, typically cut maintenance costs from the budget.
Diversification is something you must seriously consider for your business. Take your greatest tool—your brain—and use it in conjunction with your greatest technological tool—your infrared camera—and see the results in getting access to many areas, as well as taking your seasonal business to a year-round operation.
“My Diversify” came as an idea in 1999, when an associate working for my home inspection company informed me that he was working a night shift performing electrical infrared surveys to supplement his income. I was curious and wanted to know more about this “infrared,” which previously I’d only seen in the movies.
Through my initial searches, I discovered that with the addition of infrared, I could be more of a specialist in fields such as moisture investigations, building energy loss and roof leaks, which in turn would expand my current business. These were the three fields for the first infrared business plan that I wrote. It took a few years for the plan to materialize, but when it did, my business expansion took place. Looking back, I can truly appreciate the timing, as this was when the real estate market was about to nose-dive, which would have caused a reduction to my home inspection income. While performing infrared scans during my first years, I received more interest in areas of infrared that I had not yet considered.
THE “IR WOW FACTOR”
Knowing that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and “the proof is in the pudding,” I knew that if I showed everyone what infrared could do, it was a guaranteed winner. I took my infrared camera with me on almost every home inspection to build a diverse IR picture library. Because no home is perfect, I knew it would only be a matter of time to collect a series of presentable pictures. I talked to many real estate agents, explaining that I had a technologically advanced tool to identify common building problems. By showing them the “IR WOW FACTOR,” they could see the thousand words, and the proof was in the pudding once they opened up the wall. This is, in fact, an amazing technology!
Pictures like the set shown above helped me further explain the benefits of infrared to potential clients. We knew we had the WOW factor going for us with an infrared camera.
Determining the extent to which you will diversify your infrared business is to dream of all you want your business to be, and it involves choosing a camera that will not put limitations on what you can do. An entry-level camera (typically priced under $8,000) might be sufficient for simple moisture or energy surveys in residential structures; however, this would not be the proper choice if, for instance, you want to perform large commercial electrical surveys or medical applications.
You must realize that an infrared camera is an investment in your future and needs to be carefully considered as a business investment. My advice is to buy the best camera you can and make sure it hurts to pay for it. You will likely work harder and be motivated to get more business when the payment hurts a bit, especially when your spouse reminds you just how much you spent. I know this to be the case, as my first camera was not the cheapest, but it didn’t prevent me from being able to perform my first large commercial infrared survey, either.
As mentioned earlier, the focus was on certain applications for our newly acquired infrared camera, but over the years, we have received many interesting calls that have helped diversify our business. We took every call, knowing that each could offer an opportunity. Each infrared report tells a different story, even ones without any infrared images in them, like showing up for a moisture leak evaluation, with no current moisture present.
In these cases, you have to utilize the most important tool you brought (your brain) to identify the root source of the problem. Here are some interesting stories where our second most important tool (the IR camera) was utilized.
The calls came in, even from a lady who had lost her cat in the under-floor duct work. She had heard that we had this great heat-sensing camera. Her cat (three-legged) had fallen into an open floor register and basically was crawling through her duct system. She could hear the meow, but couldn’t find the cat. We didn’t get to do that job because we were out of town, but an interesting application nonetheless.
It is common for a home inspector to perform commercial property inspections. I look at each of these commercial inspections as an opportunity for IR work, as each of them has a roof and an electrical system.
Example: While performing the commercial building inspection for a potential buyer, I informed him of my infrared service and how we could identify any trapped moisture in the roof. He knew this particular roof leaked, he just didn’t know the location of the trapped water. The client took our offer and hired us to perform an infrared scan of the roof. Extra money—easy sale!
WATER TESTING AND LEAK DETECTION
Sometimes, leaks come from unsuspected places. My company was hired by a local custom home builder who had heard about our services from a colleague who had seen my service at another job (obviously the best marketing you can get). This was a large (8,000 sq. ft.) coastal-facing home where, during each storm, water would come into the home, causing an ongoing water leak in the master bedroom. The builder had installed weather-stripping and caulk to every joint in an effort to stop the leak. By using my best tool in conjunction with my second-best tool, we were able to source the water intrusion to the door handle, which was missing a rubber washer—a $1 fix.
Not all jobs are what you specialize in. Infrared cameras have long been considered a premier tool for use in paranormal investigations. Yes, we were retained to go on a forensic ghost hunt.
This is not the only time we have had this type of call. Somehow, after the word got out that we did this sort of thing, we have been called on several more times. Particularly, a call asking us to travel deep into the desert with a gentleman who stated he would like us to “film” him in infrared, conjuring up spirits at a Native American burial ground. We are often asked what we see on these types of surveys. Well, we will leave that to the imagination.
MANUFACTURER PRODUCT EVALUATIONS
We have now performed several product evaluations for manufacturers and business owners. If temperature is important and they want to express the benefit of their product, infrared can be eye candy in any marketing material.
DAIRY COW REVIEW
Have you ever imagined you might get a call to look at a cow with infrared? It turns out mastitis is a very big problem in the dairy industry.
ELECTRONICS AND CIRCUIT BOARDS
ZOO AND VETERINARY IMAGING
COMMERCIAL BUILDING ENERGY REVIEWS
Will your business diversify or die?
Ask yourself how you can diversify your business. There are services and ideas out there to help you. A simple review of the internet can open up some of these opportunities for you and your business. Attending a national conference such as the Thermal Imaging Conference is an excellent way to find out how you can diversify your business. There are many organizations that can assist in your diversification and marketing efforts.
By now, you should understand that without diversification in your business, you are leaving money on the table. Whether your specialty is houses or horses, 80,000 sq. ft.-buildings or 8-inch lab rats, my advice is to explore other applications. There are opportunities out there awaiting your infrared service. We hope that you will take the next step and open a new untapped market to the wonderful world of infrared.
Peter Hopkins has operated a successful home inspection company since 1996 (www.inspecdoc.com) and has personally performed over 7,000 property inspections. His company expanded into infrared in 2005, with the opening of SoCal Infrared (www.socalinfrared.co m) and has found success in many areas of diversification. Peter is the co-founder of United Infrared (www.UnitedInfrared.com), a national network of contract thermographers, which includes application-specific training and business coaching in a multitude of applications related to infrared technology, thus allowing the thermographers opportunities to further develop their business. Peter is an ICC Code-Certified Building Inspector and Certified HERS Energy Rater. He has been trained in Equine Thermography and is licensed with the California Horse Racing Board as an Assistant to Veterinarians. Peter Hopkins lives in Southern California with his wife, Anna, and their two children.