Crisis? What crisis?

Times are getting tough, so it’s time to make sure your business isn’t a victim of the recession.

The current dire economic situation means that many customers are tightening their belts. This has significant impacts for heating businesses, which could see declining orders for new installations, or customers wanting to postpone even routine work like annual servicing. Worse still, business costs are also rising fast, so it’s not surprising that many companies are beginning to feel squeezed.

When times are tough it’s important to be proactive and there are lots of things you can do. To help, we’ve put together a few suggestions. Some are specific to heating technicians while others should be cornerstones of any successful business. We hope that all of them will help to give you a competitive edge.

1. Don’t neglect the marketing

For some businesses, marketing is normally unnecessary – work usually comes in by word of mouth. If your order books are healthy, perhaps there’s nothing to worry about. But these are not normal times and if the phone has stopped ringing – or worse still, if people are calling to cancel or delay work – now would be a good time to start promoting your business. It doesn’t need to be costly or time consuming. A simple website and regular posts on social media may be enough to get you noticed.

For companies that do use advertising, it’s often seen as discretionary spending and something to cut when things get tight. However, you do this at your peril. Research shows that businesses that invest in marketing when times are tough do better than those that cut back. Even if you spend just one hour a week on marketing it can pay dividends. In a competitive world, it’s just important to be proactive – remember if you don’t promote yourself, no-one else will!

2. Reach out to your customers and use technology to your advantage

If you have mobile telephone numbers or email addresses of your customers, then use this technology to your advantage. Send them messages either via text, WhatsApp or email with offers, reminders or tips, to make the most of the technology available.

But how do you reach people you don’t have a relationship with? Most consumers now use the internet to search for local services so a good website and active social media presence will make it easy for clients to find you, check your experience, and make contact. Your van is also a critical marketing tool – think of it as a mobile billboard to advertise your company and emphasise your competence.

3. Emphasise your competency

Don’t forget to highlight your OFTEC registration and emphasise your competency by using the OFTEC logo on your marketing materials, social media feeds, website and vehicle. Customers looking to save money will often consider using cheaper firms – which are often cowboys. Promoting your competence will help to reassure them that you deliver a quality service that is worth paying for and better value for money.

4. Diversify your business

The more you have to offer, the more useful you’ll be to your customers. Homeowners are increasingly demanding flexible heating systems, such as adding a solid fuel stove or mixing renewables with their existing oil heating systems.

To help you stay one step ahead of the competition, OFTEC now offers scopes of registration in solid fuel stoves, heat pumps, biomass and solar thermal. Unvented hot water, MCS, and Part P electrical is also available, and adding additional scopes is straightforward and relatively inexpensive. So why not diversify today?

5. Keep your equipment in good order

First impressions are important, so it’s good to look professional. A clean van is just one of many under-appreciated details that help you make a good first impression on your customers when you arrive at their door.

One thing that’s often forgotten is to keep your test equipment’s calibration up to date. It’s best to put a note in your diary at least a month before the expiry date as the turn-around can often be slow.

6. Make sure your contracts are watertight

Providing clear, written terms and conditions of service for your customers should be standard procedure for all businesses working in the heating industry. By setting out your business terms everyone knows where they stand. This protects your interests and gives your customers confidence that they are dealing with a reputable business.

7. Top up your knowledge and let legislation be your friend

Knowledge is power and the more you know, the more your advice will be sought. You can’t expect your customers put their trust in you if you don’t have a firm grasp on what’s needed to operate safely and legally. For example, are you completely up to speed with all the recent Park L changes? OFTEC produces a huge range of information to help registered technicians improve their knowledge and be more effective in their work, which you can find on our website, along with a free technical helpline to answer any urgent questions. Look out for OFTEC’s webinars series and our monthly e-newsletters too.

8. Keep your costs down with a fuel card

Transport is a major cost for mobile businesses such as heating companies, so it makes sense to make savings if you can. OFTEC works with The Fuelcard People to make its discount card scheme available to registered technicians. Through the scheme, you can receive a discount from your fuel card, which can provide savings of up to 10p per litre on a purchase. Instead of paying each time you refuel, the bills are settled monthly and an itemised breakdown is provided, making it easier to calculate transport costs for tax purposes. The Fuelcard People offers a wide range of cards that are valid at 7,000+ pumps nationwide. The scheme is entirely voluntary and can be tried for an initial trial period free of charge, and thereafter for a small annual fee. To find out more call 0844 808 2097.