How to Be a Goliath in Roofing, Even if You’re Not
Let’s be honest. If David and Goliath were roofers, Goliath would nearly always prevail.
When it comes to roofing, there seems to be an obvious edge for the big, established leaders in the market. The new or emerging companies have a steep slope to climb because reputation, years of experience, and enduring warranties can make or break the sale. In the world of roofing, success happens to be more predictable when you are Goliath.
However, if you think about it, every Goliath had to start out as a David, right?
Optimism is golden. Make lemons out of lemonade. See the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Or, as John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” (Yes, that is seriously a quote from the State of the Union Address, January 11, 1962.)
But, let’s get real for a moment: not all Davids are equal. According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. That’s a whopping 80% who fall flat. And, although flat is good for the commercial guys, falling flat is something no one wants.
So, how does “David the roofer” become so strong that he can choose his path and expand into a Goliath or relish in his smaller stature (yes, you get to choose)? How do you join the 20%? How do you make your success more predictable?
The answer is to run your business like a Goliath, even if you’re not. Here are some tips to do that.
Be focused. Focus on one thing: you are a roofer, so be a roofer. If you try to be a painter, gutter company, and deck builder, but you have three people on your team, you will fail at being a roofer. Be one thing and be awesome at it. If you decide to diversify, wait until you grow. Stay put until you have your superstar reputation and be the best possible roofer you can be.
Be safe. Entrepreneurs generally aren’t risk adverse. Entrepreneurs like risk. That’s how you decided to dip your toe in the water in the first place. But, there’s a time and place to face risk, and overlooking insurance isn’t ever on the menu. Insurance (and structuring your business to address tax liability) can be expensive, but you need to protect yourself and your customer. Again, 80% of start-ups will fail. Don’t let legal compliance be your downfall.
Be disciplined. We get it, paperwork isn’t your thing. Roofers generally prefer a ladder and nail gun, not a laptop and cloud storage. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the hard truth is that you need to care about your data. If you are organized in maintaining spreadsheets and tracking trends in data, sales will become easier every year. The easiest sale is the past customer—so don’t lose track of them. Understand how a business should work. If you have no experience running a business, find a community college or online course and get some training in how to develop a business plan, the difference between margin and mark-up, and good accounting practices.
Be professional. Make your contracts, supporting material, and personnel (especially your personnel) look professional. It’s amazing how much more experienced your company will appear if you act like a big roofer. Pay to have a logo professionally designed and put it on your business cards, referral sheets, apparel, trucks, and contracts. Don’t overlook the importance of marketing. Invest in a complete mobile office for under $1,000. Print your contracts from your vehicle. Make it look like you’ve been doing this for a while.
Be patient. It can be tempting to let down your guard on the rules when there is a hail storm. You may want to take a flying leap into a flurry of contracts…until you get more work than you can handle and face becoming part of the 80%. Don’t be that business. You may earn a LOT that ONE spring, but is that your goal? Only take on as much work as you can handle. Build your business for the long-term.
Be smart. Pricing systems do not have to be expensive. GAF offers a free pricing app for all Certified™ Contractors, so consider working with your GAF territory manager toward certification. Too often, start-ups don’t understand the pricing aspect of roofing. Don’t price your work off a competitor’s quote. They could be wrong or purposefully low-balling the job as a marketing tactic. Figure out what your costs are and add the appropriate margin you are trying to achieve.
Be everywhere. Sponsor a little league team, join the Chamber of Commerce, volunteer at a church or synagogue, donate leftover material to Habitat for Humanity. Make yourself a member of the community. If you can build a reputation as a good roofer and a friendly neighbor, you will endure. Everybody likes the nice guy. You are David, after all. Also, develop relationships with your supplier and manufacturer. When you need a favor, it’s easier to call on someone who already knows you.
Be fearless. Every time you deliver a successful result for a customer, ask for a referral. Don’t be shy. When someone loves you, ask them to share the love. This is crucial to your survival. David doesn’t have a big advertising budget. Referrals are free and have the best closing percentage of any lead you will get. Don’t miss this opportunity. Then, when you get a referral, make sure you write your referring customer a note and thank them for it. Maybe they will refer you again and again.
Being David can be a good thing. Having the choice if you want to be David or Goliath is even better. Build your business the right way, and the decision will be yours.