April, 2008

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Consider Going Multi-Inspector


Part 2 of 3.

Click here to read Part 1.

If last month’s article on developing a multi-inspector firm piqued your interest, here are three secrets to
success. First, however, you do not need a business degree or advanced education. You also do not need deep pockets. You do not need a herd of expert advisers. And lastly, you do not need Valium or any other calming psychoactive substance.

The first step is the hardest: Make the decision to move into a multi-inspector business. Once committed to growth, the next step is to select a franchise or commit to build your own. An hour’s conversation with a business attorney and another with your accountant will help in this regard.

Nonetheless, there are three keys to success, the first being your personal commitment. A small business is all-consuming. Dedication must be long-term and unwavering. The January issue of New Orleans Magazine talking about business circumstances in their devastated city, described small business people in this manner: “Talk with local business leaders and what you hear in their voices is the intensity and determination of people who are hyper-focused. They exude confidence and stamina, and they carry an air of urgency about the need to move ahead.”

Forget television after dinner. That time is your quiet time to develop marketing materials, plan ahead, and write newsletters, thank-you notes to clients and Realtors®, and maintain your company’s address lists of prior clients and referring Realtors®. At first, you write the checks, maintain the books and balance the accounts. Staff is a luxury that will wait for the second or third inspector. Your time must be budgeted and prioritized to maximize your effectiveness. All this requires personal drive and motivation. The commitment you made to yourself on day one must be renewed on day two and every day thereafter.

The next key to success is how well you select inspectors for your business. There is no way to overestimate the importance of attitude and personality. The keynote speaker at InspectionWorld 2005 in Austin, Texas, Dr. Thomas K. Connellan, used Southwest Air as the example of how to build a booming business through employees. He explained that Southwest hires for personality and provides training for professional skills. The truth is Southwest as an airline carrier is just average, but customers love Southwest because of the people. Fly Halloween, and they are in costume. The take-off announcements are humorous and irreverent. Southwest employees make sitting in what is essentially a cramped Greyhound Bus with wings, moving through the air from point A to B, a fun experience.

Here is another example. I asked the bartender at a new Cheesecake Factory restaurant on opening night several years ago how he got his job. He explained that Cheesecake Factory interviewed 500 applicants. Each prospective bartender had ten seconds to establish rapport with the interviewer. It was all about personality, not knowledge of drink mixing.

The last inspector I hired a year ago was strictly by accident. Joe Dempsey was attending his first MAC-ASHI dinner meeting and asked to ride along with me for a day. He had never attended a home inspection, but was thinking about a new career. I watched him relate and communicate with my clients during two inspections. I was not planning to hire a new inspector, but I woke up in the middle of that night and realized the good Lord was sending me a gift. It was my job to be smart enough to accept it. Within a year, Joe finished inspector school, passed the National Home Inspector Exam and is now an ASHI-Associate with logo privileges and building a satisfied client base.

In thinking about this article, I realized that I look forward to every MAC-ASHI meeting without fail because of the quality of its members. I can say the same for the NOVA-ASHI members I know and the many ASHI members I have worked with. There is no one personality type, but it takes a “people person” to deliver a satisfying product to a home inspection client. It becomes your job as the business owner to select well.

Some advice: Do not worry about knowledge of buildings, construction techniques or equipment, all of which can be learned if there is some basic understanding of housing. Think about the personality traits that separate a home inspector from a mechanic. A highly successful “nail banger” is not necessarily a highly effective home inspector. The difference is that home inspectors must be communicators. We must establish rapport with our clients and deliver a satisfying experience.

Although over the years I have hired inspectors with backgrounds as varied as a construction superintendent, a registered architect and a general contractor, I have also hired a commercial kitchen installer, a bank teller trainer and a Maryland state trooper. All three of them had an interest in housing, but what impressed me most was their communication skills.

More advice: Have the prospective home inspector pay for his or her own home inspection school and inspection tools. This financial commitment on the part of the inspector shows the same seriousness and dedication to the home inspection profession that you have toward your business.

The last bit of personnel advice is to hire people you enjoy. One of the true pleasures of the multi-inspector experience is watching your colleagues grow and excel. As they become excellent home inspectors, you will feel gratified and enjoy the camaraderie.

The final key to success as a multi-inspector business owner is attendance at InspectionWorld each year. For the cost of admittance, a hotel room, travel and food, you will be offered the experience and knowledge of the best and brightest ASHI can offer. Attending future InspectionWorld conferences will keep you up to date and present you with new ideas.

No matter how smart you are, someone has a better idea and will offer it at InspectionWorld, or someone will show you a better way of doing what you are already doing well. While walking around the exhibit hall in New Orleans this year, I discovered three ideas that I believe will improve my company. There are many thoughtful people in ASHI; it is your responsibility as a business owner to observe and learn.

Seminar tapes from prior InspectionWorld conferences offer a sound foundation of business practices and ideas. Visit www.allstartapes.com, click InspectionWorld and hunt through the archives for audiotapes from past business-related seminars. To mention a few, Mike Crow’s seminar at IW2004 on managing a multi-inspector firm was outstanding, as was Keith Ruehl’s talk at IW2003, titled “Developing a Superior Business Plan.”  Buy Brian Hannigan’s speech at IW2006, “The Cost of Business,” “Making Support Staff Pay” by Cecil Campbell at IW2005 or my seminar at IW2003, “Communication Skills to Conduct Superior Inspections.”  There are more ideas on just these tapes alone than you can use in five years.

Hopefully, the ideas discussed above will help you create a successful venture for the years to come. Next month, the subject of marketing a multi-family business will complete this discussion.