7 ways to future-proof your trades business

You got into business to thrive, not survive. While ongoing COVID restrictions may be throwing a spanner in the works, there are important tasks you can tackle off the tools that will keep you productive and get you a step ahead of the rest.

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15 Minute Read

Contents

Setting your sights on success

Don’t let uncertainty get you down. When it comes to moving the needle on business success, you’ll do some of your most important work off the tools. It’s about having all your bases covered; future-proofed finances, a strong online presence, streamlined systems and healthy compliance. Here’s seven steps to start with that will put your business on the path to future success.

01
Prepare for seasonal peaks and dips
01

Prepare for seasonal peaks and dips

Part of managing a successful trades business includes forecasting for busy times, as well as planning for those quieter periods. By keeping an eye on seasonal trends in your business, you can reduce the risk of being caught over- or under-staffed.

For the more unpredictable disruptions, like COVID-19 lockdowns, make sure that you’ve put together a contingency plan. Not only for your finances, but that it also includes rules and processes you will follow when dealing with your staff and customers.

Having business reports on hours logged, billable hours, and revenue allows you to be more accurate in forecasting your cash flow, knowing when to bring new team members on board, or even booking in a well-deserved break.

If you’re missing historical data, look back at past bank statements and expenses to start creating a picture of what a general year may look like. While it might take a few months of data to start noticing trends, think about this: by this time next year, you could have a full year of insights at your fingertips!

Tip

Only assume you’ll have revenue for 10 months of the year as a safeguard against seasonality or the unexpected. Prepare for only two billing weeks around extended holiday periods, like Christmas and Easter, and remember you’re still paying full wages without as many billable hours. Forecasting in this way will help keep your business in a healthy financial state.

02

Help customers find your business

Gone are the days when people flicked through the yellow pages to find you. If you know a few quiet months are coming up, you may consider investing in some basic marketing activity to help bring in new customers, if you’re not already.

Google search ads are fairly cheap and cost-effective; you can even narrow them down to target just a few suburbs or specific words, and drive enquiries to your website, email, or phone.

There are plenty of companies that can set up Google ads for you on any budget, but if you consider yourself a fast learner and are handy with tech, jump onto Google Ads and have a crack! There are heaps of resources and FAQs to help you get started.

Be sure to include what services you provide and what your availability is. In times of COVID, if you are available for emergency call outs, you want your customers or potential customers to know this. If you can’t justify extra spend, consider reaching out to customers by email, phone or through your social media account or networks.

Did you know?

It’s free to have a "Google My Business" profile, making your business more visible on Google Search and Maps.

Top Google search result for a quick plumber in Parramatta

Example of a Google My Business profile example for a plumbing business

Example of Google Reviews for a plumbing business

5 tips for getting started on Google:

01

Create a ‘Google My Business’ profile listing your hours of operation, address and contact details, and a logo. Add photos of your best work - businesses with photos on their Profiles receive 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps, and 35% more clicks through to their websites than businesses that don’t.

02

Hit up some of your loyal repeat customers to leave reviews on your Google Business profile. To do this, they will need to search for you on Google Maps, open your business listing, and select ‘Reviews’. These will help increase your ranking for relevant online searches by those in your area.

03

Jot down the suburbs/postcodes you might like to advertise in.

04

Make a list of around 10 words or phrases someone might type into Google to find you (e.g. Brisbane plumbers; electricians in Fremantle; commercial air conditioning Essendon; and of course your business name).

05

Pop those words or phrases into a Google search and see what ads come up currently – these are your competitors. What do their ads say? What does your business offer to compete with theirs?

03

Get the most out of your (tech) tools

Whether it’s your job management, invoicing or bookkeeping software, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth and refreshing your team’s training.

Are you up-to-date with the latest release? Are you using all of the features available to you?

Any good product has a Client Success Manager whose job is to offer you support and ongoing training. You should also be able to access online self-help resources anytime.

Make sure you’re signed up to email newsletters for the tools you use, so you don’t miss out on any helpful webinars that run throughout the year.

"I don’t think we’d have a business if it wasn’t for Fergus, and that’s honest. We certainly needed job software that was built for the trades." – Tyler Sprunt, Co-owner of AXT Plumbing

Go to Customer Stories
04

Streamline jobs with templates

How often do you hear yourself saying “If only I had time to do [insert chosen task] business/life would be so much better”. Time is money for the trades, but you’ve got to invest time to make time and streamlining processes is a great place to start.

Do you find yourself inputting the same information with the same labour costs and same materials into multiple jobs on any given week?

Save time on those repetitive processes by setting up templates for your most common rinse-and-repeat jobs. Even if it only takes you a few minutes to input the info each time, those minutes add up to hours over the space of a month.

Whether you’re using simple Google Sheets, Excel Sheets, or a fully equipped software system, setting up favourite templates or price books will save you time on these quick, common jobs, helping you speed up the quoting process and get more work into the pipeline.

Hours not working on admin can be spent adding real value to your business, or simply allow you to get a little more enjoyment in life.

05

Secure your labour force

Finding skilled tradespeople is an age-old challenge. With unemployment rates as low as they are, it isn’t an issue likely to be going away anytime soon. You can only take on work if you have the people to commit to the job, so what can you do to future-proof your workforce?

Start by taking a good, hard look at your work culture and do everything you can to make it a genuinely great place to work. As you know, people talk, so keeping your existing team happy is how you’ll build your reputation as a decent employer.

Take on and train apprentices. Yes, it requires time in the short term, but if you are taking on new apprentices when you can, these people will learn and grow with the business. Sure, some won’t work out and some will leave after they get their qualifications, but if you pair an apprenticeship program with the first point, having an awesome place to work, chances are you’ll be building your own skilled and loyal workforce.

Keep conversations going with your existing tradies, as well as your suppliers, who are often the first to hear the murmurings of anyone who might be looking to move on.

If you’ve had to resort to advertising for new staff, you’ll know it doesn’t come cheap. If you have a great team member, who you know could be earning more elsewhere, see what you can do to pay them what they’re worth before they look to leave you.

06

Level-up your online presence

The foundation of any solid business is repeat customers, but the key to growth is new clients. To sustain or grow your business, you need to have a steady flow of jobs coming in the door at any given time.

There’s still nothing better than positive word-of-mouth and a good referral, and the best way to capitalise on that is showing it off on your website or having reviews on your social profiles.

The key to a good website for a trades or service business is to keep it simple. That may even mean a one-page website showing the services on offer, some ‘About’ information to build credibility, customer testimonials to build trust, and a contact form. Easy as!

If you don’t have a website or are thinking it’s time for a complete overhaul, websites like Squarespace and Wix make it super easy to whip up your own website using simple templates.

If you’re up for going DIY, it can cost you as little as around $150 (that’s $130 or so to use the platform, and around $20 to register your website domain name).

Example of a website for a plumbing businessTradewinds Plumbing

Your first three steps to social success:

01

Decide what social profiles you should have. If your customers are more commercial, it may make sense to choose LinkedIn over Facebook. It’s better to have just one well-maintained profile than five inactive ones. Is Instagram where your potential customers are spending their time? Do you know what TikTok is? (nobody really does).

02

Make sure you get the basics right. That means your contact details, a logo/profile image, a banner image, and at least a couple of posts ready to go. Your team out in the field have phones with them every day – put the power in their hands (literally) to capture those moments and highlights on-the-job.

03

Decide what you’re going to post on your social channel and when. Once a week is plenty to keep things going, but make sure your notifications are turned on for messages in case a prospective customer tries to get in touch. Pop a reminder in your calendar every Monday to do your social post. There are heaps of free, easy apps to make your social posts look great too, like Canva.

07

Health-check your compliance

Is there any new or adjusted compliance legislation you need to brush up on?The best place to start is on official government websites like business.gov.au, or your state’s dedicated section on Safe Work Australia.

Don’t forget a lot of your insurances are dependant on keeping compliant with legislation. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to keep up-to-date with any changes that may affect your licenses or the way you work, which can include:

  • Employment requirements
  • Tax requirements (Payroll, GST, Prov. Tax, ACC)
  • Workplace Health & Safety
  • Consumer Protection
  • Construction Code Compliance (e.g. Electrical/Plumbing Codes)
  • Licence Requirements (e.g. Tradesperson Registration Requirements)
  • Industry Compliance (e.g. Electrical & Gas Certification)
  • Vehicle Compliance (e.g. Road User Registration)

There’s so much to keep up to date with that it’s easy to fall behind and quickly become non-compliant, so don’t be afraid to outsource it! There are companies and outside consultants who can help manage your compliance with the likes of HR, health and safety and other policies, bookkeepers to keep your payroll accurate, and software tools to manage your health and safety processes.

Did you know:

Compliance is more than just induction cards and insurances. The amount of workers’ compensation paid each year for work-related mental health conditions in Australia is $543 million!

Good businesses are built on good work, but there’s more to it than just a job well done. The best in the biz have all their bases covered. Start by making your company more ‘visible’ and streamlining some of those repetitive tasks. And, of course, if you’re looking for ways to improve the way you run your business and manage your team, Fergus has you covered.

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