John Davidson looks at ways installers can build their business with very little or no financial outlay.

I was an electrician by trade but wanted to earn more from the business I enjoyed. In 1996, I started a gas and electrical safety inspection service for landlords and businesses. I called it Gas-elec because my engineers were qualified to test and service both gas and electrical appliances.

No other company had this capability, but it saved my customers time and money, as only one visit was needed, and it generated more lucrative contracts for my engineers. Demand very soon exceeded supply, so the only feasible way of maximising this opportunity was to franchise the business, to allow us to offer the Gas-elec service nationwide.

Over the next 20 years, the company grew to become the largest building services franchise operation in the UK, with over 100 franchisees providing services to more than 80,000 properties.

It gave me enormous pleasure, but, in 2016, I sold the company to four of my franchisees as I was becoming more interested in energy conservation and thermal upgrades in residential and commercial properties.

Franchising’s not for everyone, but there’s one distinct attitude difference between those who just plod on year after year, and those who make real money. Success comes to the engineers who have a passion for their business, saw an opportunity to solve a problem, create a benefit, or went the extra mile to delight their customer. That kind of attitude didn’t just generate referrals, independent endorsements and great PR, it delivered more business and it still does today.

These days, social media can be a big help in spreading the word, mainly because you can use Instagram and Facebook to tell your story, post testimonials and continually sell your service without spending money, only your time.

But who should you target? What about your database of past customers as a starting point?

This is a valuable list of people who have already ‘invested’ in your business. If you’ve done a good job for them they might need you again or want to recommend you, so you must be easy to find, which means you have to stay on their radar. And don’t forget, it’s cheaper to get new business from someone you know, than from a total stranger.

Of course, you’re never the only engineer in your area and there’s always going to be someone prepared to undercut you, which means you have to think in terms of added value too. What else can you offer your customers? Well, there’s a limit to the profit you can make from an annual service or boiler installation, isn’t there? You need options. In reality, the answer is probably already in the property.

It may be that your customers could save on their fuel bills if they improved their heating system with smart controls or installed solar PV – or what if they wanted a bathroom refit?

Taking the time to not only inform but advise them about ways to save energy, get more enjoyment from their home, or both, can reap rewards for everyone involved. And money doesn’t have to be a stumbling block, because there are plenty of ways of raising cash to pay for home improvements.

Last year I launched Home Project Finance, a finance package which helps homeowners access funds – up to £25,000 – to make home improvements. All you need to know is how the scheme works and your customer takes it from there. Once the application is approved, they could have the funds within 48 hours. You’re not involved in the finance agreement at all, but you will be the beneficiary of the additional work.

You may not consider yourself to be a natural business generator, but if you want to maximise every relevant opportunity, you will need to make the first move.

John Davidson is Managing Director at Eco-energi