September, 2007
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Build Your Business: Your Company Image Matters, But Who Determines It?

SHAWN CARR

Part 2 of 3


Welcome to Build Your Business. Each month, we will be contributing an article that provides some sound approaches to strategic business growth that have been field tested for success by some of the most experienced home inspectors in North America. Whether it’s sales and advertising strategies, tips on making your business more customer-centric or how to evaluate public relations opportunities, our goal is to stimulate your interest to work on your business rather than just in it.


Last month we talked about your company image, how your clients evaluate you, and we introduced you to a number of points in the home inspection process that provide your clients an opportunity to form an opinion of you. This month, we will explore the first five points in the following list. Beside each point, we’ve offered our opinion of each element’s relative importance with respect to its marketing value.

This month, we will explore:

1.  Referral from someone the client knows (15 percent importance)
2.  A good business card (5 percent importance)
3.  A good brochure (5 percent importance)
4.  Telephone conversation with the client (15 percent importance)
5.  First five minutes in which the client meets you at the purchase property (20 percent importance)

Next month, we will explore:

6.  The inspection — the professionalism, approachability and expertise you  demonstrate to the client during the inspection (25 percent importance)
7.  The inspection report (15 percent importance)

1. Referrals indicate satisfaction

A client referral is worth a lot — much more than a business card or a brochure. The client forms a favorable opinion of you based on someone else’s satisfaction with your services. The client will likely put stock in the referring person’s opinion, especially if the person giving the referral is a real estate professional of some kind.

2. Good business cards are essential

A business card is not worth much from a marketing perspective. And we’re talking about a good business card here. Sound contradictory? Let us explain. A well-designed business card is simply the standard for any industry. If you have a business, you require a good business card. But in terms of marketing, a good business card is not what will bring you business. Everyone has a business card, and if yours is high-quality, it will simply confirm the good opinion a client forms about you from other points of contact. If, on the other hand, you have a low-quality, amateurish card, you have just given yourself a huge marketing disadvantage. A low-quality business card gives the impression of having been made the night before. Particularly obvious are the business cards that come in sheets that you feed through your printer. Even the well-designed cards printed on these sheets don’t pass the test. If you look carefully, you can see evidence of the perforations from where the cards tear away from the sheets. For a service that depends on the experience of the practitioner, anything that suggests the inspector started the business yesterday is not comforting to the client.

3. Brochures may not be the best tools


The brochure has the same effect as the business card. You have an opportunity to make a favorable impression with a well-constructed brochure, but the message is not as powerful as other points of contact with the client. And a low-quality brochure is a detriment. The bottom line is if you can’t afford to create a high-end brochure, it’s best not to create one at all. There are lots of other ways to get the message out there that require less cash and make a stronger marketing impact.

4. Good phone manner is critical

The telephone conversation is the client’s first opportunity to truly evaluate you. Clients listen to how you speak — the clarity and tone of your voice, the vocabulary you use and so on. It is extremely important to have a professional and approachable telephone manner. You don’t have to be slick, but you should always be prepared to answer questions in a friendly and professional manner.

If you sound irritated because you are on the roof of a house while talking to the client on your cell phone, that’s the impression you’ve left with the client — irritable. That’s one reason it’s preferable to have someone else answering the phone for you while you are inspecting. Another reason is the lack of respect it shows for your client attending the inspection. A spouse, an answering
service or a full-time receptionist are all good options, as long as they have the sales tools to work successfully with prospective clients. If none of these options works for you, however, find one that allows you to not answer your phone during an inspection. An answering machine, for example, is acceptable.

5. Make positive first impression in person


The first five minutes of contact with the client are more important than the rest of the inspection. We all have a tendency to form opinions based on first impressions. Homebuyers form their opinions immediately because that’s all they have to work with. If you show up wearing ripped jeans and a T-shirt, how will your customers perceive you? Your personal image is important because you want to present yourself in a manner that is appropriate to your profession.

Remember, we are not salespeople; we are consultants offering a professional service. Our appearance should exude professionalism. Dress like people expect you to dress. Don’t jar them by being overdressed or underdressed.

If you are feeling a little tired on a Monday morning, don’t let it show. It’s your job to find the energy to make a good first impression when you meet the client. You need to appear ready, alert and able to get the job done. Smile when you introduce yourself to your client. Let them know you are glad to see them, and show that you appreciate the opportunity to help them with their buying decision. Your goal is to be accepted right from the beginning so that they form a positive opinion about you.

Scripting your discussion helps, but don’t let the script become obvious or sound like you are dragging the client through a scripted process.

Next month, we will discuss the actual inspection and the inspection report, and the influence they have on your company image.



This article is based on content from “Building Your Home Inspection Business – A guide to marketing, sales, advertising and public relations,” authored by Carson Dunlop and published by Dearborn Home Inspection. Carson Dunlop also authors the Home Reference Book, Essentials of Home Inspection, the Illustrated Home and most recently, HORIZON, a unique Web-based reporting system. See www.carsondunlop.com or www.dearbornhomeinspection.com for more information.