I think it is pretty safe to say that when we make the decision to go into business for ourselves, we know that we need certain office tools—a phone, a computer and our inspection software. What we might not consider is the long-term effect of our decisions regarding those solutions. We also might not consider how we could accomplish more with less.
Time might be a luxury when we first start out, but time seems to quickly disappear as we perfect our skills and develop a loyal client base. When evaluating solutions for business, we need to not only consider the state of our business today, but also where we expect or want to see ourselves in the future.
Phones and Phone Services
We all know we need a phone when we start our business. And, we can all agree that it isn't the best choice to answer the phone while on a roof or in front of another client. We know that we will end up with missed calls, which isn't ideal but is a reality. When planning for the long term, you might want to consider working with a call center, finding a partner in business to help you answer the phones or researching services that can respond via text message to incoming calls.
Today's clients want immediate help. Home inspectors should find a phone solution that will indeed provide that help.
I recently switched my office phones from a local cable company to RingCentral, which is a voice-ove- internet protocol (VoIP). I expected to have better communication, tracking and even the amazing ability for all of my team to call out from the "office number" from an app on a cell phone.
What I didn't expect was that our clients would have the ability to text the office number. This unexpected benefit was also very eye- opening, as we had no idea how many clients actually try to text our office number. The first week, we received 10 inbound text messages for inspections, which made me both excited at the prospective business and cringe at the thought of how many opportunities we have missed in the past because our previous phone system didn't have this ability.
Oh, sure, 12 years ago we did have a texting option when we used my husband's cell phone for our business, but that was three phone systems ago. I wish I had thought about our future needs before we gave out his cell phone and had to painfully make changes three times over the years to finally find a good long-term solution.
Report-writing software is another necessity of business. I recommend evaluating as many software options as you can before you select one for your business.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What type of operating system is important to me?
- What happens when I add members to my inspection team?
- Can we work on the same report together?
- Does this software allow me to work on a tablet and a computer, or must I choose one or the other?
- Does this software have an office component to help with my agreements, or will I need or want a scheduling service to help with appointment records and agreements?
The choice is personal. There are many reasons why inspectors believe one software system is better than another. In the end, the choice you make will likely be based on your personal preferences, cost, the ease of learning and the operating system.
Report-writing software such as Home Inspector Pro (HIP), Spectora and HomeGauge, for example, have integrated office solutions that have some of the functionality of Inspection Support Network (ISN). Before you decide for yourself, I recommend asking for recommendations from the, inspectors you interact with whom, including your local and national chapter mentors, as well as people who belong to common Facebook groups, to get a variety of opinions on what has worked best for them.
Then, it's important to sift through their guidance and choose the system that will work best for you. It's been my experience that changing an office system is almost more painful than changing your phone system.
In my opinion, having the ability for your clients to schedule appointments online is a must. Today's clients want answers and results now, so providing the ability for clients to do business with you in multiple ways, including online, via Facebook or even by texting ,is vital to ensuring your long-term success. The office solutions mentioned above all have online scheduling solutions, although some are more robust than others.
If you are an inspector starting out or if you are an inspector who wants to improve your office systems, what are some other tools you might not realize that you need or should have?
How about a bookkeeping system? Sure, you can have a "doing business as" (DBA) name so that clients can pay you instead of a company, but one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has taught it me is that, is also essential to have an efficient record-keeping system to ensure whether your business may need financial assistance now or in the future.
I recommend QuickBooks Online because it is user-friendly for non-accountants and it has all the information that an accountant may need to help you in the future. It also integrates with many services, including ISN. Some coaching groups even recommend setting up a specific chart of accounts to help you track how you are doing compared with other inspectors.
How will you collect and post your reviews? You can send an email to your clients to solicit their reviews, of course, but there are service, such as Podium that can help with reviews as well. Some of these review services are expensive and they may not be industry-specific for home inspection. I recommend checking out Blipp Reviews, which was started by a home inspector for home inspectors. The service sends a text message to your clients asking them to write a review. The conversion rate is much higher than if you sent an email to your client on your own, and it is quick and easy for clients to rate you as an inspector.
Have you tried using a communication tool for your team? As you start to add inspectors to your team, another thing you should consider is how you will communicate with your entire team throughout a given day or week. Using a platform such as Slack is a great way to fill this need. Slack is free to use with basic permissions, and it allows for private channels, document sharing and the ability to "pin" certain documents for the team to quickly reference if needed.
If you are like me, you might have two (or more) email addresses that you monitor daily. In addition, you also might monitor Facebook, Google business and possibly more. Opening several tabs on your computer might not be the most efficient solution. Consider using an application such as Shift, which allows you to bring all the emails or apps (that you monitor separately) together into one screen. It also has the ability to integrate hundreds of other applications.
How about an applications organizer? Once you have all these amazing applications, is there a way to make them all work together? The answer is yes and I recommend checking out Zapier, which is "middleware" that allows two applications that would not normally communicate with each other to communicate by the use of "zaps." "Zaps" are automated tasks you ask the system to do.
For example, when I upload a report into my ISN, I set up a "zap" that creates a line with the client name and address on a Google spreadsheet that I can use later. I also have a zap that pulls our Google reviews into a Slack channel called "Honor Rocks Reviews" so that our entire team can read about the amazing job they are doing. Personally, I find Zapier to be pretty magical and I highly recommend checking it out. If you want to use the Zapier integration with ISN, just ask the ISN help team and they can provide you with information.
How will you connect with peers to help and inspire you? As I mentioned previously, asking your peers for recommendations is extremely valuable. This includes recommendations for coaching groups such as IEB and IGO. If you haven't experienced the advantages of engaging with a coaching group, I recommend checking it out. Getting groups of inspectors together to "mastermind" how to be better at their profession is one of the best resources you can have. Most coaching groups consist of talented individuals who become lifetime friends and a vital support system during tough times.
Think Through All Your Options
With so many tools to help home inspectors run a successful business, it can be hard to make choices. That is why I recommend finding tools that work well together and provide multiple solutions so you can cut down on expenses and avoid the hassle of making painful system changes later.
Attending InspectionWorld®, ASHI's annual conference, is a great way to check out all the knowledgeable vendors and ask questions to find out which solution will work best for your business. Also, by walking through the exhibit hall, you can use your time wisely—talking with your peers along the way and learning from them can help you find new solutions that could turn out to be pure gold for your own business.