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Mine was down 15%...How about yours?


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I just tallied up the numbers from 2008, and they ain't pretty. My job count was down over 13 % compared to 2007. I was almost holding steady thru August, but then the bottom fell out. Locally, we have had 36 straight months of declining sales compared to the same month the previous year. Oddly, my job count was UP 33% in 2007 compared to 2006, despite the sales numbers dropping so much during that period. If I factor all that in, I don't feel so bad. Relatively speaking, I did not suffer as much as the home sales numbers would suggest. But there's still not enough spare cash laying about to but a new BMW in the garage. Or even a Hyundai.

I hear stories of some local inspectors dropping out, leaving me the potential to grab a growing slice of a shrinking pie. I need to take advantage of that, and to do that I need some better marketing ideas. Unfortunately, that's not my strong suit. I need some guerrilla marketing strategies. Anyone know any good tips/books/general sales ideas that don't involve making yourself look like a huckster or calling on agents? I'm trying to find a way to involve previous clients since they are the source of most of my leads already. Has anyone had success with any sort of incentive or "thank you" program for referrals from previous clients? I'm thinking of something like a $20 restaurant card for a referral, but I'm open to all ideas.

What works for you guys?

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Well, I really have not worried about keeping track of my numbers after my relocation in 2006. All I can say is that I have not had to get a part-time job and I'm thankful for that.

I have seen a slight increase in calls over the past couple of weeks, and I have had a few jobs rolling in. But all in all business is down all around the country. Some areas are worse than others.

I would not really worry about marketing short of building the best website you can. As soon as folks realize that they are not going to lose their job and that it takes a down payment and good credit to buy a home, we will see an increase in the inspection business.

Right now about the only folks buying homes are those who have to do so. Those that are being transferred, or taking on a new job in a new city are the ones that are buying the homes. What we are missing are the buyers who are trading up to a larger home. Those I'm betting we will not see for another 12-18 months or maybe even a little longer.

Diversifying your inspection business is also a good way to increase sales. Several years back I branched off into residential and commercial draw inspections . Well the residental draws are very, very slow but the commercial jobs are still doing well. I also got into phase and quality inspections for custom homes. This market is also a little slow, but the 3 homes I have going now are all multi-million dollar homes that give me a monthly (most last 12-18 months) income equal to about 7 normal home inspections!

You just have to think outside of the box. I can't tell you how many times I have heard other home inspectors say that they would never do a $50 residental draw inspection. Well tomorrow I have 7 draw inspection all between $50 and $75 and I will not drive more than 50 miles to do them all. It pays to take the work that others scoff at because it is below their normal fee.

Getting out and doing other types of inspections also allows you to meet individuals that you might not normally meet. You have access to all types of professionals and they will give others your name, if they like you and you do good work. But this also takes time to build this type of relationship. I can't tell you how many referrals I have received from contacts like this.

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My figgers were pretty similar to yours, Kevin. Normally I have a large chunk of cash in my business account this time of year that, for tax purposes, I transfer to myself personally in January. But this year? There's no chunk to be found.

The gift card idea isn't a bad one, but I have a different approach. Like you, a majority of my business comes from client referrals. I unfailingly let my former clients know how much I appreciate their kind words by sending them thank-you notes. I have heavy 4" x 6"cardstock stationery embossed with my company info that inserts into matching embossed envelopes. What I write is always a little different, but it goes something like, "Thanks so much for the kind words to Kevin Barre about me and my company. A referral like yours is how I'm able to stay in business, and you'll never know how much it means to me."

I fall behind sometimes, especially in the summer when things are rocking, but I always make time to catch back up. Human nature being what it is, I think it's much more gratifying for my former clients to feel noticed and appreciated, than for them to feel as if they've earned a reward. I think it also engenders an eagerness to pass my name along again, because they know I'm paying attention.

Some will probably say, "Who has time to write 400 thank-you notes every year?" Well, but those referrals are why I have a successful business, so I make the time.

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2008 was the weakest inspection year for me, personally, since 1987. We are a multi-inspector multi-inspection company that felt the slowdown before any other area; Mid-Michigan. We have nearly three years of scrambling.

We came through 2008 quite well. Paid all the bills, kept our standards and ethics, made a few bucks and had fun! All the numbers were lower but the profit percentage was higher. No new office stuff, rehabbed the computers, no new tools, and became very selective where our advertising dollars went.

We are very proud of our referral rate this year - 60%.

Our company business split for 2008 will be aprox: 40% legal, 40% existing homes, 15% draw and 5% uniquestuff.

Be aware we are a company, not an individual. If I were an experienced individual inspector, I would follow Scott's advice. Without his personality and experience an individual would have to craft a tight budget for operations and allocate additional dollars for education. I think the smart inspectors will invest, now, in education.

When this slow-down is over on a national level, the well educated inspector will thrive.

No amount of marketing will get you business in the long run, if you can't/don't do a superior job!

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Thanks to all for the replies.

Scott--

I already do residential draw inspections. While it's more hit or miss, I have done as many as 5 in a day. Fortunately, most new construction around here is within about 5 miles of my home. I've done a few commercial jobs, and I'd like to do more since it pays WAY better, but the companies I work for don't seem to do that much biz here. Local banks generally do their own, believe it or not.

John--

The thank you note is a good idea. I hate thinking about the time to do it. Admittedly, I hate actually doing that sort of thing even more. Let's just say I'm not exactly a "people person." Unfortunately, my wife is no help in business operations. She'd be perfect for the PR end of the job. There's also the question of where to send the notes...I don't usually know whether my client follows through with the purchase or not.

Les--

I agree with the education idea. I'm going through books that I have had for years and haven't looked at much. While I can always learn more, I have to believe that I am doing a better job than average since local home sales were down in a percentage slightly over double the decline I experienced. Then again, it may only be that I'm delusional!

I do like the legal work based on the pay rate. Well, that and the fact that I don't have to enter a crawlspace filled with rodent poo. (I'll leave out the lawyer comparison.)

If things go as planned, later this month I will have my fourth court case where I am the witness for the plaintiff. I've never really sought out that business, but I began to give it serious thought last year.

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I guess it's just the Washington DC area, but I'm up by about 10% from last years numbers. I will be hiring an Inspector to take over my Residential work as I am focusing on my new business, which is coming along nicely. I agree with others on this thread about diversifying. I saw that two years ago when I considered getting into Thermography.

Hope everyone has a fantastic 2009!!

Kevin

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Hi,

My end-of-year figure is similar to Kevin's; overall, the number of paid inspections completed is down 13%.

The first five months of the year were kind of so-so and account for 45% of the total number of inspections. Things kind of took off in June and the five months of June through October acccount for 64% of the year's total inspections. However, the number of inspections dropped 26% from August to September and September and October held steady with the same number. Right around election day the bottom fell out and the last two months account for only 6% of the total for the year.

I haven't tallied the dollar figures yet but I suspect we had a decent increase in gross revenue over last year up until November when the bottom fell out.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by AHI in AR

Thanks to all for the replies.

John--

The thank you note is a good idea. I hate thinking about the time to do it. Admittedly, I hate actually doing that sort of thing even more. Let's just say I'm not exactly a "people person." Unfortunately, my wife is no help in business operations. She'd be perfect for the PR end of the job. There's also the question of where to send the notes...I don't usually know whether my client follows through with the purchase or not.

I have about a 5% "not at this address" return on thank-you notes.

Something that helps, is that I keep names, addresses, fees, etc. of all my gigs on an Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is helpful for keeping track of income, too, because all I have to do is highlight all the fees generated in a month or a year and hit Sum.

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My 2008 gross income was down 10% from 2007, but 2007 was down about 13% from 2006. So for me 2007 was worse. My 4th quarter of 2008 was better then 2007. Money feels tighter in 2008 because I have been hording cash and increasing my reserve for 2009.

Trying to motivate for 2009 with new marketing and inspection services is difficult for me. This will be my biggest challenge.

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