Building relationships to build your business

I got started in the roofing business when I was 17 working on a roofing crew. Then the summer after my freshman year of college, I started my own company. A friend’s dad was a builder who started replacing a lot of roofs after a major hailstorm. He replaced so many roofs that people thought he had quit building houses and focused solely on roofing, which wasn’t his plan.

At that point, I’d been working for the company doing roofs for about a year. The owner, Ron, came to me and said he had to quit roofing or he would never build another house. He asked if I was ready to get started in business, then he drove me to the bank to open an account and to a printer to get business cards and some invoice and estimate forms. He showed me how to do everything for my business.

He said to me, “If you treat my referrals the way I would treat them, I’ll send them all to you.”

So at the age of 19, I owned a roofing company, and I got spoiled with a pretty steady stream of referrals. Between that relationship and just talking with people about what I was doing, I more or less developed a referral network by accident.

I had two favorite aspects of business: meeting with people to help them, and doing the actual labor on a roof. I didn’t pull myself off my own roofing crew until 17 years after I started my business. At that point, I’d been nailing roofs for nearly 20 years, and my body started talking to me about it.

When my wife, Kirsten, left her job as a special education teacher to join me in the business, we realized we needed more systems and more relationships in place to continue to grow our business. Some friends invited me to a weekly networking meeting with mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and insurance agents. I realized that for 17 years, I’d been waiting for the phone to ring, and I hadn’t actually been doing anything to generate referrals.

As we continued to work on improving our business, we focused more and more on building strategic partnerships. But we didn’t build those partnerships with just anyone. Along the way, we had identified that it was important for our business to have a servant’s heart and to employ and partner with people who also had a servant’s heart. We wanted to work with people who needed someone to truly take care of their customers, whether that was insurance agents, real estate agents, or property managers.

We use a lot of subcontractors in the roofing industry, and we applied that same servant’s heart philosophy to those relationships to make sure we were taking care of them. There’s a common thread with subcontractors and supply houses—they like to get paid on time. So we made it a priority to pay our subcontractors every Friday. By making them a priority and building that relationship, they make us a priority. If they hit the busy season and can only do 10 roofs per week, there’s a good chance it’s going to be our 10 roofs.

Our focus on building relationships also applies to our customers. We do a lot of small repair jobs that many roofing companies won’t bother with, which helps us build a relationship with the customer before that big storm hits. We also offer a roof maintenance plan that helps with removing leaf debris, clearing limbs that are touching the roof, and looking for any signs of animals getting into the attic. It helps us stay in contact with our customer and serve their smaller needs over time.

Through our approach to building strong relationships and running our business with a servant’s heart, we’ve become a year-round roofing company rather than one that’s sitting around waiting for the next hailstorm to hit and the phone to ring.

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