Nelson runs an electrical contracting company in Toronto that’s been in business for over 35+ years. His dad started Transfer Electric decades ago, and Nelson has taken over and has overseen steady growth in the business from a small one-man operation to a multi-person team. We thought interviewing him would be excellent for helping us understand how businesses in “traditional” industries like service industries can expand and grow in this modern era.
What are your biggest business lessons that you’ve learned running your company?
I’d say the most important lesson is the importance of delegation. There’s a limit to what you can do as one person, and it’s important to learn when to hire on people. I used to be stubborn about doing everything myself, but once I hired on reliable people to take on jobs, to answer the phone, and to do my accounting, I was able to grow the business. As they say, focus on working on your business, not in it.
What would you tell someone who’s just starting out in the electrical contracting industry?
I’d tell them that the most important factor is to treat your customer with respect, fairness and honesty. Go the extra mile for them. It’s crazy how many bad experiences customers have with the trades. A lot of people get into the trades to make quick cash, and don’t treat their customers with respect. This is why the trades often have a bad reputation.
When hiring, make sure to hire reliable honest people. And if a customer complains, get to the root of the issue. Bad service should not be tolerated in the company culture, and it’s extremely important to set up processes and systems to maintain a high level of quality service. And absolutely do a thorough background check on all employees to ensure that they check out.
How Do You Market Your Business?
My two methods of generating leads is through word of mouth and through the internet. Word of mouth works because our customers are wowed by the level of customer service we provide. We invest a lot into internet marketing, including Facebook ads and organic traffic. It’s paying fruit though, as a large percentage of our revenue is through digital marketing, and we generate a very high ROI. Another successful method is through door to door marketing, which can work well if you hire some students to do the selling.
Every contractor needs to have a presence on the web, it’s incredibly important as customers are going online to find contractors. Going forward, we’re going to invest more and more effort into building our advertising strategy on the internet. Some avenues we’re looking into include Google Adwords, Homestars, and other such companies.
What’s Your Current Biggest Obstacle?
In a word, scaling. Scaling is something we’re working hard on right now because we’re getting more customers than before. Hiring is difficult, and setting up processes and systems for every single task is even more difficult. This is an extremely time consuming process, but it’s very important because doing it right can ensure that the business will keep growing, and our customers will stay happy.
Many contractors lose their quality of service as they grow their business from the 1-5 employee mark to the 15-20 employee mark. The reason why, in my opinion, is a lack of Standard Operating Procedures, and systems to help things run smoothly. At that size, it’s hard to keep quality consistent unless everyone has the same playbook to follow. It’s too hard to keep tabs on every single employee on all the time, so you have to good management processes set up for your team leaders.