In my last post, I mentioned that I expected to be getting a date to sit for the Virginia Master HVAC License Exam. I had not heard anything for a few weeks, so I emailed a very nice lady down in Richmond who told me that they still hadn’t received my letter of recommendation from the state of Maryland.
I called and spoke with another very nice lady in the Maryland DLLR office who told me that she would personally send the letter herself- and that the letter should arrive in 3-7 business days.
A few more weeks went by and I was starting to wonder, and to my surprise the Virginia license showed up in the mail! I guess they took it into account that I have already carried the Virginia license in the past, so they simply provided the license!
I also mentioned in my last post that DC was next- stay tuned!
Okay, so I’m back to work at a company where I have worked previously, and things are going pretty well. The company pays license fees for employees- so I’m using the opportunity to get caught up on all my trade licenses.
I have a valid and current Maryland Master HVAC license, and the Commonwealth of Virginia is kind enough to reciprocate their comparable HVAC license- as long as I fill out the application, pay the fees and take the test.
I put the whole packet together, sent the forms in and got a very nice email from a person in Richmond that said I need to attach an official letter from the state board that my license is in good standing, so I filled out a form on the Maryland DLLR page, and apparently they will provide this form and the Virginia office should have it in about a week.
That means, if everything goes well- I’ll be getting a date set within a couple weeks to take the Virginia master HVAC exam. Since multiple states use the same testing company, this will be the 4th time I have taken this particular test. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my good record going so far.
Up next- getting it done in DC.
A couple years ago, I posted this article when I started teaching as an adjunct instructor at a local trade school. I was either tired or in a hurry when I posted it, because it was riddled with bad grammar and spelling, and it was very brief!
Anyway, I started teaching again at a different school, and this time I have a part-time position rather than simply teaching as an adjunct. I know what this means on paper- but practically, I really don’t see much of a difference how I function here vs. the other place. I like teaching here better because it is closer to home, and I’m only doing two nights a week as opposed to four nights a week like I was doing at the other school.
I still find myself stretched each night I teach and face new questions, and I find that I have to go flipping throught the reference material from time-to-time to come up with the answers to some of the questions I’m asked. This is a small class, so I find that I can go farther with these guys than I’ve been able to do in the past.
These guys are in a one year program that is supposed to prepare them for an entry-level position in the HVAC field. Each semester they focus on some portion of the industry; heating, cooling, hydronics, refrigeration, etc… This semester my class is learning about evacuation, recovery, and charging of refrigeration systems, so this semester has not only covered the fine art of adding and removing refrigerant – but also what that means in terms of compliance with EPA and federal regulations concerning the trade. It was a lot for them to take in, but they’ve done really well staying with the curriculum.
As the class draws to a close and we prepare for the final exam next week, It is pretty cool to see how these guys have developed over the course of the class. When I first met them, they were pensive about touching some of the tools, hesitant to touch the equipment, and now they carry tools for me to the truck, and they are pretty well working independently with very little supervision. This is where the real payoff is- realizing that they are capable of performing basic tasks like; running a vacuum pump, evacuating a system, and charging a system with very little involvement from me at this point.
One thing that continues to shock me as I teach these classes, is the blank looks I get when I mention basic middle-school chemistry and physics. I didn’t really do well in middle and high school, so I know that it is to struggle with certain conceps- but I don’t see this as a failing of my students, but as a failing of whatever educational system they came from. They’ve never seen the stovetop crushed coke can, they’ve never played with baking soda and vinegar, they’ve never put dry ice in a soda bottle, poured in hot water, and screwed the cap on real quickly to see what happens.
It’s a little frustrating when I take an HVAC concept, and try to relate it to a real-world phenomenon, and they have never heard of my real-world example. I’ve had to pull-up youtube videos on more than one occasion to show examples of things that I have come to take for granted.
I have struggled to balance between book time, and hands-on time but overall I think we did a pretty good job this semester reading, reviewing and discussing a chapter, and then in the following class doing the hands-on practical application of what we just read and discussed. The fruit shows in moments like tonight when I have the class broken into two groups- one is installing a new refrigeration system, and the other is charging our mini walk-in box, and both teams are doing so with very little interruption or supervision from me.
Overall, I am proud of these guys, and I hope they all go on to become successful HVAC techs in the future, but I also hope that they remember some of the fun things we did in this class, and think of me the way I still remember my trade school teacher from 20 years ago.
So, you’ve dumped a million dollars into creating, building, or buying an HVAC company, you’ve got nice trucks, trained mechanics, knowledgeable salespeople, and a talented management team- and now you realize you’ve got a big problem. The phone’s not ringing. In the “old days” it was relatively easy to get local customers for HVAC service. The formula was simple (albeit expensive.) You take out a full-page ad in the Yellow Pages, Name your company anything you want as long as it starts with an “A” and get an 800#.
We all know that the internet changed all that. The trouble is- the internet was supposed to make it cheaper and easier to communicate with your customer. Remember, you spent all that money a couple years ago for that company to convince you to take the pictures of your annual deer-hunting trip off the front page of your site. You needed to improve your online image and the phone was supposed to start ringing! What happened? Why aren’t customers calling? I’ve been noodling this for a while, and I decided to do a little research into what makes HVAC companies successful in advertising.
1. Use Constant Contact Right now you have a treasure chest sitting in your office that will bring you revenue and new business opportunities. It’s right there, on the hard drive of one of your machines, or on your server if you IT person is tech savvy… What is it? It’s your existing customer list. Constant contact can help you create an email marketing campaign that will keep your name in front of your existing customers. Why is this a good thing? Aside from the opportunities that you have with selling your existing customers new products and services- you also have the opportunity for referrals. Remember those? We’ll talk more about that later. P.S. if you haven’t been collecting customer email addresses, SHAME ON YOU!!!
2. Use Social Media. Round Peg offers four good reasons why and how you should be using Facebook- but it applies to all social media. social media isn’t the end. You don’t start a Twitter feed and immediately start seeing results. Social Media is a means to engage your customer. It is an opportunity to allow them to talk back to you. When you use Social Media you aren’t just advertising, you are engaging in a conversation. In this conversation you can teach, you can learn, you can sit back and listen and you can network. Remember that word? NETWORK!! and networking results in referrals…
Another important point about social media, and online marketing is that you need to create metrics to measure the effectiveness of your online efforts. Companies like lijit can help you get a handle on understanding where your customers are coming from and what they are looking for. Google Analytics is another very powerful tool to help you measure the effectiveness of your online strategy. Google- I’m sure you’ve heard of them. BI is the art of business intelligence. If you have to create a spreadsheet and start asking your customers “how did you hear about us” when they call- it’s a start.
3. Use traditional marketing effectively. Wait a minute, stop the bus! Did you say use traditional marketing??? Yes- but I qualified it by saying that you need to use it effectively. There is marketing research out there to show that some direct mail campaigns still work. You need to get your name in front of people. Create a logo and a name that people can remember- and then put it in every place the customer will let you. Put stickers on their equipment, give them fridge magnets, notepads, calendars and pens. You don’t need your customer to think about your company every day- you only need them to think about it when something breaks, or when it’s time to renew or purchase a service agreement. Plus- if a customer has your phone number on their fridge- they are more likely to tell one of their friends about it, and make a referral.
“Yeah” you say. “I get it” you’re thinking to yourself. johntindale is saying all this to emphasize the importance of customer referrals. Think about it- it makes sense. If someone comes to you though Angie’s List, what is it? It’s a referral. The customer went to Angie’s List because they were looking for a third-party recommendation for a reputable HVAC contractor. If they went thru yahoo local, or servicemagic they are basing their decision to call you because they are counting on these services to hold you accountable and that the referral gives them some assurance that you will handle the business transaction responsibly, effectively, and ethically. Don’t sleep on Bing or Google Maps either. People are getting smart about finding local companies by looking up “furnace” on the map app on their phone. That’s a “whole nother” article.
If the internet has done anything, it has given your customer the opportunity to not only be an expert about the goods and services you sell, but to be an expert about you and your company and rave about you, or talk smack. With a few clicks, and a few search strings- like “yourcompany sucks” Your customer can find out quite a bit about you, and you must decide whether you are going to proactively manage your online (and offline) image, brand identity and persona or if you are going to sit back and “wait for the economy to turn around.”
Well, 2012 started out well enough- and for me it took a serious crap right in the middle of it that basically ruined the whole thing. So I’m really not very sad to see it go. The reasons why 2012 went down the crapper were mostly personal and as Forest Gump would say- “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Another area where I feel I didn’t do so well, is that I like to do something every year to learn something new, to enrich myself, take a class, attend a seminar, etc. – and I really didn’t do too much along those lines in 2012. I tried to take an online MIT class in electronics and bombed miserably- mostly due to my earlier failings in math as a teenager. I didn’t really pursue any new trade licenses, or better my career in any way either. Every year since 2000, I have made an effort to do this, and I would like to recommit myself that in 2013- I will do something to better myself, expand my horizons or make myself smarter in some small way.
On the positive side- I “only” had three jobs this year! Read previous blog posts and you’ll understand what I mean. I take responsibility this year- because the next time one of my bosses tells me that I’m a rising star in his/ her company and they want to rapidly promote me, I’m gonna tell them “no thank you, I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing now. I need to slow down, I need to not be in such a hurry for advancement, and I need to keep my head down and not stand out so much. It sounds kinda crappy but I seem to get in trouble when I take on advancement, and I just need to slow it down a little bit.
Another positive side is that I’ve been forced to refocus on the important things in life- I’ve spent more time with my wife and kids, I’ve spent more time in church, and I’ve spent more time building relationships than I have in past years. I have been so preoccupied with career, with trying to build a business, and with trying to be “successful” I have missed some of the most important moments in the life of my family, my friends, and the people around me. I resolve in 2013 to continue along this path, and to make it a habit to appreciate the “little things” that make this life worth living.
So overall, I just want to say “goodbye, 2012″ and close that chapter in my life for good, to put the past behind me and to move forward with renewed optimism for the future. No matter how happy or sad, how much success or failure, or no matter what comes my way, I will- like Springsteen says “find a reason to believe.” To wake up in the morning, brush my teeth, put my pants on and head out the door with the expectation that today is going to be better than yesterday- and if it isn’t screw em’ there’s always tomorrow.