During the 2008 presidential election, we heard a lot about the need for change. Over the last few months, we all experienced change of a different nature, a kind none of us wanted. Our faith in those who ran or are running large financial and industrial institutions has dropped to new lows. As a result of the drastic changes to our economy, many companies are closing their doors or filing for bankruptcy protection. All of this is directly affecting those of us in the construction industry. Things are changing, and those changes generally are not in our favor.

Many analysts are of the opinion that weak companies will shut down or reorganize, and strong companies will simply get stronger. How does this affect you? The answer will depend on how you have structured your background of knowledge and your business. If you are a technician who has worked hard to develop a well-rounded electrical background, you have already made yourself a valuable asset to your employer. There are obviously some changes you have no control over. But if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to determine how you can make positive changes in your career to become that valuable person.

How well do you know the codes that affect the work you do? There are various organizations that provide training in the National Electrical Code and the National Fire Alarm Code. Remember, the codes are changing, as well. Some of these changes will create business opportunities but only if you are aware of how the changes will affect your customers. As a business owner, knowing these changes will help you plan the training of your technicians.

A future article will detail some of the major changes to NFPA 72-2010, but suffice it to say that a knowledge of emergency fire alarm/voice communications systems design and installation will help you serve your customers more efficiently. This also is a good time to obtain training to develop your expertise in communications systems, so you will be well-versed in the subject when installing a mass notification system.

If you own an electrical contracting firm, now is the time to redouble your efforts to diversify your business. Managing your cash flow is obviously important, but as Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Little Red Book of Selling” and a weekly contributor to my local business newspaper, the Providence Business News, wrote, “Sell more. No company ever cut their way to success. Cutting is fine, but you still have to have cash.” Gitomer offers these excellent points:

• “Give something of value to your customers and invest in them. They will thank you and respect you.”

• “Select your top customers and invest in them. They will thank you and reward you with their loyalty.”

One of the ways to give more value to your customer is to offer to solve their fire alarm system, security or communications problems. Offer to review these systems and the way they are being maintained. Look for ways to save your customer money that is being spent maintaining these systems.

Another reason to contact your top customers is that they may be cutting maintenance personnel, and you may be able to subcontract those services.

By asking questions, you may find that your customer has unresolved issues with the local fire marshal. You probably have the expertise to resolve those issues. You can at least provide a long-term plan to correct the issues in a way that lessens the immediate costs of the repairs or changes.

For example, fire alarm system false alarms are often a real problem for some companies. They cause lost production time, so any company in this position would no doubt be willing to invest to fix the problem. If your customers’ false alarms are from smoke detectors, you could make them aware of new multi-criteria smoke detectors that effectively eliminate false alarms. When you take the time to learn more about the systems you install, you put yourself in a better position to help your customers.

This also is a time to find new customers. There appear to be opportunities developing in government work, and that can be an area for you to begin your diversification.

You must explore all segments of your marketplace. Wringing your hands and listening to the TV commentators tell you how bad it is will not help you grow your business. Change is in the air, but you are in control. Remember Gitomer’s advice: “Sell more.”

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.