A lot of residential and light commercial renewable energy work is starting to be picked up by general contractors, like Jamie Leef of S+H Construction in Cambridge. Why? General contractors are in a unique position to pick up this work because they’re used to managing projects, sales, and it supplements their existing business.

Beginning in September, I am going to be working with one of my best friends in Maine to create their renewable energy division. My friend Gilbert took over his father’s residential construction company. It’s a small local company in coastal Maine that has a repuation for building high quality, energy efficient homes.

I’m going to keep a journal of the journey on Heatspring Magazine because many of the issues we’ll be dealing with are common for everyone in the industry. What am I going to be discussing? Everything that a small business must do to make money; establishing our marketing and sales strategies, performing site visits and creating sales proposals, applying for incentives, the design process and lastly, the installation process. My goal is to be 100% open and share everything we learn. I have absolutely no fear that me sharing this material will mean less business for us. In fact, I feel it will sharpen our business strategy, writing has a tendency to do this, and it will help other contractors like yourself. Read below to get this specifics.  If you like this idea, have any questions, or are working on a similar project, feel free to leave a comment or ask me on HeatSprings facebook page.

Step 1. Where are we now? What capability does the company already have?

The first thing I’ve done when speaking with Gilbert is to catalog our current capabilities. The company has a solid reputation in the region for high-qaulity work and building super-energy efficient structures. Their focus has always been on creating the most efficent shells possible and now we’re looking to supplment those skills with renewable energy.

What does this mean for the new renewable energy division? It means that we have existing relationships with all the drillers, electricians, engineers, building departments, plumbers and roofers we’ll need to complete any job we need to. In addition, because Gilbert and his father, Jonathan, are building experts, I have a huge knowledge base to tap into if any technical or building related question come up.

Step 2. What are we lacking?

Given that we have all the capacibilties to design and install the systems, WE JUST NEED MORE SALES! Duh, that was easy to figure out. So, I’m going to take some of my own adivce. In the past, I’ve suggested creating a free renewable energy workshop for property owners to bring your potential customer to you. This is exactly what I’m going to do. In fact, it’s the only marketing I’m going to do.

What will I include in the first presentation?

Note: it needs to be quick and high impact. 20 – 25 minutes max. People have short attention spans so every second needs to be useful to the homeowner.

  1. Establish my credibility. How do I know how to design and install renewable energy systems? Why should they trust my financial calculations?
  2. Outline the problem – I’ll not address climate distruption because most people in Belfast will already be familiar with it, and it tends to polarize the audience. However, they may not be familiar with building science facts and numbers. It will be key to address the most common issues in a homes energy usage, and also durability and comfort. The goal will be allow property owners to self-qualify and select themselves. The reality is that 98% of home needs some sort of work, even if its just a little more insulation.
  3. Run though the soluations. Go over the basics of energy audits, how solar and geothermal systems work, and weatherizing. I will keep the solutions quick but each will run through this same pattern: A) Where the technolgoy works (remember self-qualificiation), landing needed, roof orietnations, building characteristics. B) How they increase the comfort and durability of your home C) the financial benefits of each technology. If you invest in XX technology, what are your typical returns.
  4. Emphasis government incentives. This seems to get people really excited.
  5. Provide CLEAR NEXT STEPS. If a potential customer is interested I need to make it CRYSTAL CLEAR what their next step is.
  6. Ask them if they have any questions. I want to make sure to provide plenty of time for anyone with questions.

How will I market the free workshop?

1. Create a simple, compelling title that is useful to the customer. There are a few themes I’d like to utilize when brainstorming possible titles.

  • Make your home as comfortable as possible – A large percentage of Belfast’s community are retirees
  • Utilize government incentives. Why not?
  • Get strong financial returns with little risk – again most people are retirees. So, they’re planning on living in their homes for a logn time and are looking for high return places to put their money.
  • Be a responsible citizen.

2. A couple title could include….  (keep in mind I’ll be doing this in the fall, before the winter in Maine)

  • Free homeowner workshop: preparing your home for winter
  • Utilizing government money to save you money this winter
  • Investing in your home to get high returns at low risk
  • 10 Reasons you’re paying too much for energy
  • Making your home more comfortable and paying less for energy

3. Create a one-page flyer and bring it to local business. Belfast is a small town, so ‘small town marketing’ is what will drive attendance. Something that might not work in Boston, where people don’t really know each other, could work in Belfast. Also, because I grew up there, I know a lot of the people in town.

4. Create 3 to 4 different flyers and create a different URL for each based on the message and then track how much traffic the event each landing page gets from each URL. This will give me an idea which message is more effective.

5. Make the workshop regular. Either once a week or twice per month, I haven’t figured this out yet. This will be key for people spreading the word. They need to be able to easily remember the day of the the week, location, and time to tell their friends.

What will I be using as feedback to tweak the workshop? What will I look out for?

  • What do people respond to? Watching the crowd as I make the presentation, their faces, their head nodes, are they falling asleep?
  • What are people asking questions about? What do they not understand? What do they want to know more about?
  • What makes people come and talk with me after the presentation?
  • My hunch: There are going to be a few points that either 1) confusing people or 2) get them really interested in investing in a project. The goal will be to decrase 1 and increase 2.

How will I leverage the presentation for future marketing?

  1. As we complete jobs, I’ll add more pictures and customer testomonials to the workshop increasing the credibility.
  2. I will record the first presentation and create a CD to pass out to prospective customers to help educate them before I make a sale visit, so the time will be more productive and have a greater chance of leading to a sale.
  3. Put the presentation on a landing page (Created with unbouce.com) that will have people fill a form to get a site visit.
  4. Run a local google adwords campaign for just my zip code (04915) and direct people to the landing page.