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65 New North Road,
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4 min read

How your trades business can ride the wave of the recession

Recessions can be unpredictable but there are a few things you can do to ensure that your business comes out the other side thriving. Ex-Plumber and Fergus founder, Dan Pollard, outlines his “do’s and don'ts” to get your business through.


Q: Should I invest in marketing?

A: Invest in marketing activities that align with your target audience

To get the best bang for your buck you need to consider what type of business you want and the best way to reach these customers. Below are initiatives I’ve used in the past when targeting specific groups.

Residential - High quantity and lower earning work mean you need to be reaching a big audience to get the number of jobs required to keep your cash flow steady. You’ll want to look at a strong digital strategy with a big budget for Google Ads. Search engine marketing makes it easy for people to find you, and a great website makes it easy for people to contact you.

Property Managers - Servicing a small audience reduces the need to spend large amounts on digital advertising. Instead, your focus is on building relationships and getting your foot in the door. Once there, you’ll need an excellent customer experience to keep them and that means investing in your processes. You want to make working with you as easy as possible so you’re making their jobs easy.

Industrial maintenance - Most of these contracts come about through relationships. Rather than spending on digital advertising, your cash will be going towards wining and dining. Once you’ve made connections through your networking, focus on perfecting your sales pitch to get you over the line.

A: Don’t spend money bringing in customers if you can’t deliver a good experience

Does your phone go unanswered? Don’t have time to prepare a quote? Does it take you a day to return a voicemail message? Spending money on advertising will always hurt, but it’s going to hurt more if you lose a potential customer before you’ve even had a conversation with them. You will churn and burn these leads - and never get them back. What a waste of money!

Building trust in your ability to do a good job starts from the very first interaction. This is why firms spend so much on their vans, uniforms, and signwriting. When done well, it becomes the backbone of marketing because it shapes customers' impressions of you and the values your company represents. This is your brand and reputation.

Before you start spending on advertising, consider the experience you want your customers to have and what changes you and your team need to implement to make that happen.


Q:How to keep cash flowing?

A: Focus on delivering work to the customers' expectations

A happy customer is a customer that pays their bill. If you want bills coming in on time then it’s your job to interpret the customers' expectations, clearly communicate this to your team, and make sure it gets done.

A few ways I keep this in check are:

Communicating changes - right now the industry is riddled with delays. Luckily customers know this and are understanding - if you’re keeping them in the loop on the changes. Good customer experience is giving customers sufficient warning of changes in costs and timelines.

Job sheets - decent job management software will allow you to add notes and instructions to your job cards so your team knows exactly what they’re doing on site.

Training - Remember what I said about reputation? The first step is to train your team on what excellent customer experience means to you. Once this is in place then QA your team by calling customers up after the job and asking questions about the quality, value for money, and whether or not they would recommend you.

A: Don’t start any work if deposits or payments are late

In a recession, jobs will start to dry up before they even start, or worse, once you’ve begun and you’ve invested time and money in materials. I’m also seeing businesses joining the race to the bottom to win quotes and only to feel the squeeze later down the line.

Deposits and a payment schedule are the most important things you can do to minimise your risk.

When you quote a job, clearly outline the deposit you require before starting work and the dates that you will require subsequent payments. Highlight that work will not start/continue if payment is not received. Luckily, companies with cash flow issues tend to be hesitant to agree to pay a deposit so you’re able to avoid dealing with them.


Q: How to keep your team motivated?

A: Think outside the box when it comes to hiring

With the labour market so tight and wages high, you’re going to need to start considering less experienced workers that have the right attitude. Skills can be learned but attitude can’t.

If you’re struggling to find time to properly train inexperienced staff, then I highly recommend considering bringing in a former tradie for a few hours a week to help you train. Some of the best trainers have been team members that got bored with retirement and wanted to get a few hours a week in, without returning to the workplace 100%. An experienced tradie can supervise between 4-6 people on a site, freeing you up for other work.

A: Don’t let the job pressures create an unpleasant place to work

I get it, you’re under immense pressure to keep your business afloat and keep your team employed. It’s bl**dy hard keeping your cool sometimes

Keeping staff is harder than ever, so don’t give people a reason to jump ship. A few key principles that I’ve run all my businesses by are:

Fair pay - Generally the easiest way to get a pay rise is to get a new job. Stop making it easy for good people to leave by rewarding them with pay rises when they deserve it, not when they are. Nothing builds resentment like feeling as though you’re not getting what you’ve earned. Reward early, reward fairly.

Nana culture - I’ve pushed for this in all my businesses. I want the team to feel like they’re speaking to their Nana when they call into the office, because who’s grumpy at their Nana? Who swears at their Nana? Who’s short-tempered with their Nana? Basically, you treat them well and they’ll treat you well in return.

The right tools for the job - If they’re having to stuff around on-site because they’re trying to make do with the wrong tools then you’re setting them up for failure by being inefficient and doing a poor job. Whether it’s the right tool for the job or having a decent way to communicate job information, it all matters. Having the right tools means the likelihood that the job will be done to the customers' expectations increases. Your likelihood to get paid quickly increases. And your likelihood to get paid increases.


Keep on top of your business performance

This recession is here to stay, and the best thing you can do to help your business is to have a way to monitor your performance. Keeping your job and financial information in one place takes the guesswork out of “will I make a profit on that job”, “can I afford to buy a new van”, and “are the team working efficiently”? Job management software helps you stay ahead of the game, and stay in business.

Start a free trial with Fergus or find out more about how our job management software helps trades businesses get through tough times.

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