Sometimes we get so caught up in running an electrical business and trying to make ends meet that we forget the importance of planning. It is important to take the time to evaluate your business and decide which areas need improvement and where new business can be developed.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What are our core strengths?” Have you evaluated the strengths of your management and technical staff? You obviously are in the electrical business already. And maybe you dabble in fire alarm system installations when they happen to wind up in your electrical contract. But if your core strengths include highly qualified and motivated technical staff that could easily focus on building your fire alarm systems installation and service business, why haven’t you built that business?

Is your mission to focus on customer service combined with unparalleled technical capabilities to ensure your clients receive the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions possible?

In this age of technological advances, you often need to be at the top of your game just to stay even. Some owners look at electrical contracting as something anyone (who is licensed) can supply and, therefore, tend to treat it and you as a commodity. How do you differentiate your company from the rest?

First, you might want to evaluate who your customers are. You may answer that you work for owners and general contractors. But do you or could you specialize in an area of business, such as servicing the electrical, fire alarm and communication needs of colleges and universities or manufacturers?

Second, you need to decide if you want to expand your business to recession--proof it by doing more with clients who are themselves somewhat recession--proof. It may be that you have not attempted to develop a service business because it takes too much organization and attention, which impacts your installation business. But if the installation business is trending toward being treated as a commodity, can you afford not to investigate other areas of business, such as fire alarm service?

What are some of the key facts about your customers today? Are they leaders in their field? Do they demand quality and solutions to their problems? Do they need those solutions fast? If you can meet those needs, you have differentiated yourself already. Now the only problem is finding more challenging customers who need a responsive company like yours.

What about your service leadership? Do you go beyond what is expected, accepting responsibility for your work and providing leadership on the job?

Participating in community development often is a good way to find like-minded individuals with whom you can market to while working beside them on a community project.

Have you thought about the fact that when you install fire alarm systems, you are saving lives? Understanding the part you play in the life safety equation is important to understanding your core strengths and how to better market your company in the fire alarm business. This also will help you and your staff to develop a passion for working in the fire alarm industry.

You probably have a relationship with a fire alarm system equipment supplier. If you don’t, and you really want to expand your fire alarm business, develop one. Once you have a good relationship with a supplier, consider developing it to the next step by becoming a partner in marketing efforts. For example, work with your fire alarm equipment partner to sponsor training events for local fire marshals. Maybe the supplier has a fledgling service business or can’t keep up with the demand. If you establish a positive relationship with that supplier, you could offer your technicians a subcontract role to assist in supplying those service needs.

Become a local resource for your local fire inspectors. When they have questions about the correct way to wire or install a fire alarm device, share your knowledge.

Focus on quality. The National Fire Alarm Code requires a large amount of documentation with every fire alarm system installation. Become the recognized leader in providing all correct documentation on time. Expect the best from your installation technicians, and provide the best service to your customers. That feat seems to elude most contractors.

Create a customer-focused culture. If you ensure that your customer’s needs are met, you earn the customer’s trust. If you become a problem solver for the customer, you establish credibility by being an integral part of helping the customer.

Using a marketing partner who has the same focus and ideals as you do will ensure more growth in the fire alarm systems installation and service business.

By evaluating your core strengths, you will be better able to position yourself as a key provider of life safety systems. Understanding your core strengths and developing partnerships will increase your business. It’s up to you.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.