Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

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Applying Microlearning to Technician Training

Even before the pandemic, remote and online education and training methods had begun to make huge strides and increase in popularity. So, it came as no surprise that 2020 caused the adoption of online learning platforms and materials to skyrocket as the pandemic halted most in-person activities.

With this rise in remote online education, microlearning emerged as a highly effective teaching method in both learning and business environments. As a result, the adoption of microlearning training techniques has grown in popularity across many industries, and the trades are no exception.

 

So, What the Heck is Microlearning?

While you won’t find a formal definition for microlearning in the dictionary, the term has become widely popular in schools and businesses alike. Microlearning refers to consuming small “bite-sized” amounts of content that are ideally suited for skills training. The goal is to deliver brief, instructional pieces of training material that a learner can easily retain and consume at their convenience.

 

Common Forms of Microlearning

These bite-sized chunks of learning material can be delivered in several forms, but a few reign supreme.

  1. Simple, concise text (a few short sentences)
  2. Instructional pictures/photos
  3. Quick video snippets
  4. Recorded audio
  5. Learning activities/games

 

Numbers Don’t Lie

So, why is microlearning so popular? Because it’s proven to be more effective for today’s learners. This style of training and learning continues to grow in popularity as studies show that both students and employees are more receptive and likely to retain shorter, more concise educational and training materials. The stats:

  1. A recent study by the Journal of Applied Psychology found that microlearning makes the transfer of learning 17% more efficient.
  2. A report by Software Advice found that microlearning can increase employee engagement with learning tools by more than 50%.
  3. A study out of the University of California-Irvine found that learning in stretches of three to seven minutes matches the working memory capacity and attention spans of humans.

 

How Does This Apply to the Trades?

It’s no secret that the trade industry is facing a knowledge and skill gap. The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook tells a scary story of upcoming shortages in skilled tradespeople through the year 2028. But, while the growing number of job vacancies in the trades may look grim, the good news is that help is in the pipeline.

The New York State Department of Labor projects significant growth in high-paying skilled occupations through 2024. Another report found that California is expected to spend more than $200 million a year creating and improving career technical education programs to meet the state’s need for trades workers.

As the skilled trade industry begins to attract a new and younger generation of workers, we’ll have to turn to new and innovative methods to educate and train this fresh crop of young technicians.

Cue microlearning.

 

Microlearning – Your Techs’ New Best Friend

The trades are the perfect setting for microlearning – both in terms of process training and equipment education. Microlearning is geared toward skill training. It breaks down the procedures that a technician should follow while on the job into short, easily digestible chunks of content that can help them develop their skills more quickly.

Now, we’re not saying to replace formal technician training with YouTube videos. Instead, we suggest incorporating certain aspects of microlearning into your regular training and on-the-job procedures.

 

Example One – Equipment Training

When training a technician on a complex piece of equipment, you probably don’t expect them to master and understand the specifics of servicing the unit in one go. That amount of technical training and information would likely go over any new tech’s head.

Instead, more efficient use of time is to divide training on that unit into smaller segmented sections. These sections can be made up of in-person training sessions, instructional videos, written materials, etc., that can be delivered over a specific period of time or accessed at the technician’s convenience. This allows the technician to quickly master a smaller component or procedure for this piece of equipment then move on until they master the entire unit or repair.

 

Example Two – Process Training

The goal of any service company is to provide quality service on every job. Creating and ensuring a high standard of service is the best way for service companies to differentiate their business and retain and attract customers.

Quality control is key, and technology can be a huge asset to service providers looking to ensure and monitor the quality of work their technicians provide. For example, implementing a technology solution that arms technicians with automated step-by-step checklists of the processes they are required to follow on the job ensures that each completed job meets the same standards.

Microlearning can be incorporated into these step-by-step checklists or workflows through the addition of instructional text, videos, photos, etc. By including bite-sized instructions to each step, you can ensure that each technician completes and documents every step properly.

 

Example Three – Collaborating Outside Your Organization

Whether you work with one or multiple tiers across an organization, utilizing technology to create a ‘partner network’ can extend the process standardization and microlearning capabilities outlined in Example Two to the organizations, affiliations, and groups you and your techs work with together.

Multi-channel workflows allow you to share processes, content, training tips, and best practices with any OEMs, distributors, peer groups, dealers, technicians, and subcontractors you may work with. Because this extends the step-by step-checklists from Example Two outside of your organization, the microlearning instructional bits of content become exponentially more important in explaining and ensuring everyone understands the processes they must follow.

 

Example Four – Technician Support & Troubleshooting

Too often, when a technician runs into a problem in the field or a job ends up being outside their skill set, they are forced to call in backup, resulting in a second truck roll. This scenario is inconvenient for everyone as it costs the provider more time and money.

Technology and microlearning can help service providers avoid second truck rolls in a couple of different ways.

  • Reference job history – Allows the tech to easily reference past jobs on a specific or similar unit, reviewing any notes, photos, and even videos previous technicians may have left.
  • Easily searchable knowledge base – Technology arms the tech with a growing library of relevant equipment information, diagrams, manuals, training videos, and wireframes. From there, the tech can easily search for a specific unit or problem type to help them learn while on the job.
  • Remote video training & troubleshooting – Real-time remote video calling allows the tech to reach a more experienced technician for a quick and remote training and troubleshooting session. This helps avoid a second truck roll and helps the technician learn while on the job.

 

Keep Things Short & Simple

The key trend with microlearning is keeping learning sessions and training materials brief and easily digestible. For greener technicians in the field and office, this type of bite-sized training and learning is perfect as it can tailor it to their specific learning and working needs.

 

Cydney Myers is the Marketing Manager for XOi Technologies.

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area.

Summer’s Coming – Don’t Get Busy

Hiring and Firing Customers.

Raise your hand with me, if you will…come on, now…do you get stuck in the mindset and bad HABIT of feeling like you have to serve every customer that calls in and requests your company’s services?

We know that the value of just one customer is great, but are there customers that exist that actually decrease value? Over the past three years, the contractor/customer relationship has changed drastically. The demand for speed and convenience alone has changed the landscape, not to mention transactional differences, and with more and more technicians going out on their own these days, profit is harder to make. Profit can be made in this industry, but it can also be forfeited for the missionary mandate of serving all in need. Let me give you some of the greatest advice that my contractor dad shared with me: You do not have to help every customer that calls in; you can say no. And as a matter of fact, saying yes to every caller is a bad habit – businesses are built and torn down by something as small as a habit.

I get that our need to help and find solutions is why we do what we do, but to serve our communities at the expense of our business is not why we started our companies. When we realize that we do not have to provide service to everyone, we become empowered to begin building the type of customer base that allows us to succeed and enjoy the experience.

THE CALL

How many times have you heard on the other end of the line, “Do you treat all of your customers like that? You’re not much of a businessman, are you?” or “You won’t last long.” How about this one?  “Well, you know you are legally required to run the service calls in the order that you get them.” Yes, this happened to us in our contracting business. Some people believe that your service is simply there to serve them the exact way they want. We say, “The customer is always right,” but what we should say is, “The customer we choose to give service to because of mutual respect and clear expectations is always right.” There’s a big difference. And the big difference is that we retain and please the customers we want, and in return, they choose to keep us as their service provider.

 

THE SELECTION PROCESS

How exactly do we choose them? With spring coming to an end and summer upon us, as the phone calls begin to pour in, how do we stop from getting so busy and covered up with too many of the ‘maybe good, maybe bad’ customers? How do we change the habit?

  • First, write out your ideal customer profile and be sure to include the neighborhoods they live in. (Example: homeowner, ages 45 & up, multiple systems in their home, 90210 zip code)
    1. I’m kidding about that 90210 zip code. Our ideal customers don’t all need to live in Beverly Hills, but we need to target neighborhoods that we want to be working in – these neighborhoods may be near elementary schools, suburbs, or golf courses.
  • Second, tag all existing customers if they match that profile. Don’t forget that many of your existing customers are ones you want to keep.
  • Third, stop giving your resources and attention to customers that don’t fit the bill. Does this mean you stop giving them service altogether? Not necessarily. But what this does mean is to stop trying to milk a cow that has no milk.

After you make your profile:

  1. Scan your customer database and make some cuts.
  2. Focus on who you already have, and then plan to become more intentional with these customers.
  3. Make contact immediately.

Current customers are the easiest and most affordable way to re-energize your services. Adams Hudson, a friend and fellow consultant, says, “The reason most of them (55%) leave you is due to your perceived indifference. They think you don’t care whether they stay or not! How could you possibly allow that perception to go unchallenged?” Contact your most valuable assets! No excuses. This contact might include any of the following:

  • Multiple postcards a year
  • Thank-you cards after service calls
  • A few non-sales-y phone calls a year
  • A monthly newsletter
  • Four gifts a year (magnets, cups, pens, t-shirts, etc.)

It doesn’t take a large budget to be intentional with your priority one customers. Even the smallest gesture can make a large ripple and put you back in their top-of-mind Rolodex. Then, focus on the new. Go out and get those new priority customers. You will need to focus on filling the spaces you emptied to make room for the best. Use the same profile you used with your existing customers. Before you know it, your customer list will be full of profit-making names, and the relationship you have with those customers will be part of the reason you stay in business with each new year.

 

P.S. This is an oldie but a goodie; check out this ‘Creative Call-Taking’ video for more on how to prioritize when you get busy this summer! https://youtu.be/wf-6GBJvNRU

 

Danielle Putnam is the President of The New Flat Rate and on the Advisory Board of Women in HVACR.

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area.

Three Powerful Price Conditioning Techniques

I know that you have experienced this:

You’re at the end of your presentation, you present your price, and the client is shocked. Deeply shocked!

They’re so shocked, in fact, that their reactions can be anywhere from sad, to confused, to downright furious! They can even be shell-shocked to the point that they don’t even know what to say.

When this happens, they’re not going to buy. You are going to get a load of excuses. You’ve heard these before, right?

Let me think about it.

We’ll call you back when we’re ready to make a decision.

I have to get three bids before I can do anything.

The real reason why you got slammed with objections is because your client wasn’t prepared for the price. The good news is, we can fix that!

I’m going to teach you three techniques that you can use to make sure that your client is prepared for the price.

 

Technique #1: Explain the Investment Factors

When you’re presenting a large ticket item, it’s important to start price conditioning very early in the call. This technique is used prior to your heat load calculation or your system design work.

There are several good ways to use investment factors, but to keep it simple for this example, I want to limit it to two.

It works by explaining that there are two major factors that are going to affect the price of a system:

  1. Options that can be controlled by the client, and
  2. Options that aren’t in anyone’s control.

In this technique, you’re going to pick out some items that will increase or decrease the total cost of a system. Then you’re going to tie this into their system options. You could explain how increasing efficiency increases the price. You could also explain how bigger systems are naturally going to increase the price.

Once you have given the homeowner a series of features and benefits that affect price, you’re then going to relate that to a sliding investment scale. To make this really work well, you could even use a visual representation of this sliding investment scale.

This is a great technique that is very effective at communicating the investment range and choices that a homeowner will have. If you would like to hear some examples in greater detail, make sure you listen to the audio version of today’s blog.

 

Technique #2: Use the Shock and Awe Statement

The Shock and Awe statement is a tried-and-true classic for any salesperson. It is used to coax out the budget that a homeowner has in mind when they are not willing to freely give it.

Here’s how it works:

  • You asked the client to tell you what budget they had in mind for this project.
  • They give you some type of reason why they’re not going to tell you.
  • You then ask them if they’re willing to invest a very large sum to get the project done. Be specific, say something like “$20,000.”
  • You keep your mouth closed and wait for them to talk. They will usually tell you no, they will not spend that much money.
  • You then ask them what they’re willing to invest.
  • Surprisingly, 90% of the time they’re going to tell you now

This technique works because of human nature. The homeowner will not be expecting the surprise of you being so bold to ask for a large amount. So, it loosens their lips just enough to tell you what budget they actually had in mind.

Once you know this information, then you also know how much value you need to build.

 

Technique #3: Reference Other Jobs

This is my personal favorite technique. The reason why I love it so much is because it ties in technique number one and two with real examples.

In this technique, you’re simply going to share with the homeowner some real examples of other people that have made very large investments with your company and why they did that. You’ll also share some lower to middle examples of investments made with your company.

The whole point of this technique is to say the following;

When it comes to new systems for your home, Bob and Betty, we have a very large range of options. The great news is you’re going to be able to pick one that’s going to work for you.

This technique is received very well by the homeowners, and it works fantastically! I absolutely love it.

Here’s my closing thought for today: price conditioning is a normal part of the sales process. It helps you and the client make good decisions. It’s also a skill that is quite uncomfortable for many people. My best recommendation to you is to start practicing it today and master it for your own success!

 

Todd Liles is the CEO of Service Excellence.

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area.

Employee Social Media Policy to Stay Above the Fray

Online, more and more, you see comments and posts that you may not agree with.

Unfortunately, some of these remarks are made by your employees. You can’t control what your employees say on Facebook or any other social site, but you can help them post wisely. Because what they post can have an impact on your business.

As a company owner, what are the best ways to protect your company’s reputation from the personal beliefs of your employees?

I reached out to Ian Scho-tan-us of Big Picture Consulting. Anyone who has been on any of the myriads of contractor support groups on Facebook knows Ian as ‘The HR Guy’. He has 12+ years of experience in the industry and is considered an expert in the fields of HR, Safety, and Payroll Compliance. What I also like about Ian is he understands what the contractor is going through; he knows the difficulty in retaining good, quality employees, so his insights and suggestions are reflective of those challenges. Ian emphasized that you do not want to limit your employees’ personal freedoms, but you NEED them to realize how their actions can affect your business. He stressed that company culture should be a factor in all aspects of your business, and your company culture should guide your employees in their actions.

Company culture can be defined as the shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that characterize a business. It is the way people feel about what they do, the principles they believe in, where they see the company going, and what they are doing to get it there.

Company culture is the key for businesses to operate with purpose. They drive the shared culture of you and your employees. However, each employee also has their own values. These may be based on their upbringing, education, and their social environment. Differences between corporate and personal values are not new, but the popularity of social media can make them more obvious.

Outlining basic guidelines that create a level of respect for the company, your customers, and other employees is beneficial. These include:

  • Do not speak negatively about the business, its staff, or customers.
  • Company and customer confidentiality is essential.
  • Do not post harassing, hateful, or illegal content.

 

It is essential to help employees understand the possible risks associated with the use of social media. The questions below are beneficial to employees if they are questioning what to share on social media.

  • Does this relate to my work?
  • Does this conflict with my company’s values and culture?
  • Is it obvious that I am speaking for myself and not on behalf of my company?
  • Would I be comfortable sharing this with my boss or colleagues in person?
  • Could this have negative effects for myself or my company?

 

It should also be clear that employees are not evaluated for personal activities or opinions if they do not break the law, are not offensive to others or the company, and do not negatively refer to the company or working conditions.

Yes, your employees are active on Social Media. No, you cannot forbid them from discussing work. However, if you leverage the opportunity correctly, you may find that giving them reason to post the POSITIVE aspects of your company culture will help promote your business, assist in recruiting efforts, increase both employee and customer loyalty, and overall provide real-time validation to your Company Culture efforts!

 

Lynn Wise is the Founder and CEO of Contractor in Charge.

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area.

The Market is Red Hot

Some Quick Points Regarding Today’s M&A Frenzy

 

To say that the first quarter of 2021 M&A activity within the residential service contracting trades is hot is an understatement. In fact, there has never been as much buying and selling going on within our industry! Not even the Consolidation Period of the late 1990’s compares to what is occurring today. HVAC and plumbing service contracting businesses are the thing with private equity investors and have been for a while now. As this trend continues, more and more investors are finding their way into our world.

What has changed in 2021 are the number of buyers jumping in on the action has as well as the flexibility of both the size of the businesses acquired and expansion into secondary markets. Whereas your business better produced $1M in EBITDA to attract a buyer in the past, I am seeing buyers consider businesses that produce less than $1M in EBITDA today. In the past, the less than $1M EBITDA was a no man’s land for finding qualified buyers, not so much today.

No one can predict when the heated interest in our industry will slack up; all we know is that at some point, the activity will morph back into a less frenzied pace. If you are a service contractor and you want to sell your business, now is the right time. Although there has never been a better time to negotiate with a buyer, a business owner should keep the following points in mind:

Although buyers are stretching for premium businesses, the highest offers are going to businesses with consistent double-digit earnings within markets that can facilitate growth. One exception might be smaller acquisition targets in markets that the buyer has already made a commitment (add-ons or tuck-ins).

Buyers may want you to roll a part of the proceeds back in the transaction which would make you a minority owner going forward. Retaining a minority ownership and continuing to grow your business under the support of private equity partners or new owner can be an excellent opportunity for you to enjoy what is referred to as the “second bite of the apple”. The second bite comes when the private equity partners grow and then sell their collection of businesses at a higher multiple than what you would be able to achieve for business alone. In many cases, retaining a minority interest of say 20% can result in a payday equal to or higher than when you sold the original 80%.

Understand the meaning of the word arbitrage. If a buyer has already put together a significant operating group, it is likely that they are able to sell that group for a multiple much higher than what your business, as it stands alone, can demand. What this means is that a buyer can stretch significantly as long as the arbitrage makes sense. The best way to explain this is by example. Assume a buyer pays you 8x for your business, and that buyer is able to then add your business into their group. Now assume their group collectively demands a 15x multiple – the arbitrage here is 7x earnings. The day the buyer purchases your business at 8x, they automatically can sell it for 15x. The magic of arbitrage is what is driving the impressive earnings multiples today.

Despite recent off-the-chart sales prices and other tales of great deals, a business owner must still understand the basic concepts of valuation, what builds value, and how earnings ultimately drive values and purchase prices. Make note there is a big difference between valuation and price, especially today. Understand valuation, but think price when it comes to selling. Consider a formal valuation, but be sure that the professional completing your valuation understands what is occurring in our industry at the moment.

Don’t be fooled into thinking everyone who contacts you via letter or telephone is a buyer or actually represents a buyer. With the interest in our industry, you are being bombarded by every investment banker and business broker who has ever turned down a thermostat. Many clients report they are contacted weekly by buyers, when in fact, the contacts are mostly from people looking to list and sell their business. This does not mean real buyers are not directly contacting business owners because they certainly are.

Don’t waste time on buyers who are not serious or incapable of completing a transaction. There are a lot of qualified buyers out there today. Potential buyers include private equity, strategic buyers, and individuals (to name a few). There are also a lot of time wasters. The quickest verification is to ascertain the capital a would-be buyer has to actually complete a transaction. Does a potential buyer have the capital, and if not, are they working with a lender such as Live Oak Bank (who specializes in lending within the service contracting industry)? Without the capital or without a plan to secure capital, whether conventional or SBA, the would-be buyer is just wasting your time. Another quick verification is whether or not the would-be buyer has a history of completing transactions.

Although you may have been contacted by a buyer and have received an offer, have you negotiated the best offer (counteroffer)? Are you prepared to navigate through due diligence, and have you fully negotiated the entire transaction? Although you may not require a business broker to find a buyer, you will still need a team to ensure that the transaction closes and closes for more money than the original offer. Consider a consultant who understands the M&A process, a good M&A attorney, and of course, your tax CPA. On the surface, nabbing a multi-million-dollar offer may seem simple, but in all actuality, the work has just begun. A good M&A consultant will have gone through the procedure many times before, understands both value and purchase price, and is able to guide you throughout the entire project. Many projects that I have taken part in over the last 24 months begin after the seller has been contacted by a buyer.

Do not discount the chances to sell your business just because it is relatively small or services a smaller market. I have assisted clients in transactions of all sizes over the last year, and I am finding more and more buyers for businesses with less than $4M in revenue. This is especially the case in hot markets where strategic buyers are frantically looking to “add-on” to already purchased businesses. I have even assisted a small HVAC contractor in a rural market recently that, up until now, I would have falsely concluded there was little chance of the business trading at what the buyer proposed. Again, we are in uncharted waters and the nets buyers are casting get wider and wider by the day.

In summary, the service contracting trades are hot today. The trend ends are unclear, but we can be certain that over time the frenzy will lighten up. However, prior to that, the opportunity to sell your business exists today regardless of size and to an extent, your geographic market. If you have been approached by a buyer or if you are considering taking advantage of the market, feel free to reach out to me and I will be able to provide further insight.

 

Brandon Jacobs is a CPA and operates Contractors Financial Opportunity, LLC. For more information, contact Brandon at Brandon@contractorscfo.com.

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area.