I wasn’t the best student when I entered school, but once my first-grade teacher spoke to my mother, I really started to pay attention. Today, I thank that teacher—and my mom—for setting me straight.


As I grew in business, I realized that paying attention could really pay off. Whether it was gaining an understanding of a new system or finding a sales lead in a newspaper article, I discovered the real importance of paying attention.


In the December 2012 issue of American School & University (ASU) magazine, Mike Kennedy’s article, “Staying the Course,” covered 10 issues that educational institutions should focus on to keep functioning efficiently.


Your initial reaction might be, “Well that’s nice. But how can that help my fire alarm or mass notification systems business?” Frankly, not all of the issues could apply to our businesses, but certainly, we could find that the thought processes and direction schools and universities may take over the next year would have some effect on our businesses, even indirectly.


“Budgets” topped the list of issues discussed. We all know that schools and universities have had to work with tight budgets, but continuous constraints have done two things. First of all, these constraints have caused the institutions to focus their limited resources on getting the most return for the dollars they spend. I suspect that, in proposing a fire alarm system upgrade, you would significantly move the discussion forward if you advised about a system that serves multiple purposes, such as public address and mass notification. Second, budget constraints may have caused the institutions to delay replacing aging systems, which has led to a pent-up need for service work on all of their systems.


Focusing on just these two results of budget constraints offers a good reason to ensure the institutions in your marketplace know about all of the services you can provide. By paying attention to their needs, you will stay on top of the list when they decide on major systems replacement projects.


As the ASU article states, “nearly every institution has facilities that need improvement.” But none of these institutions can make these improvements without funding. Recently, there have been successful bond proposals that will provide K–12 schools with the funding necessary to build new facilities or upgrade existing buildings to meet changing enrollment needs. By paying attention to such bond proposals published in your local news media, you can approach the schools to determine how you can assist them before they begin the design and bidding process.


All schools and universities want to provide a safe learning environment. As we have read in accounts of various shootings, security and notification of the students and faculty members remain paramount in the planning process. Safety in schools and universities also requires comprehensive fire protection and mass notification systems for various other emergencies.


You can expand your business opportunities by identifying the superintendents in your local school districts and by offering to use your knowledge to assist them in their planning process. All superintendents must develop emergency response plans. Thus, they will need your expertise in the systems area.


Due to declining enrollment or the high cost of maintaining older, inefficient buildings, some jurisdictions must consider closing schools. Knowing this offers you a two-fold business opportunity. First, the schools that remain open will undoubtedly need systems upgrades. Second, the schools that close will inevitably become repurposed to house other facilities that will need new or revised systems.


In my city, a closed school recently was repurposed for an elderly housing project. Knowing this and getting involved early in the process would enable you to participate in the planning and design process. Your early involvement will likely lead to a better-than-even chance of your company providing the necessary safety systems.


And finally, schools and universities have come to realize that they must make effective maintenance a priority, especially in the area of safety. Approach these institutions with a plan to manage the maintenance of all of their systems. They should need little explanation as to why emergency repairs prove more costly than having you manage routine repairs effectively. For example, offer a computerized maintenance program for multiple facilities that individual facilities, by themselves, could not afford. By grouping a number of similar buildings together and using your program and technicians to perform the work, the institutions will not only realize savings, but also will be able to divert those savings to other important needs.


So, paying attention is important. However you obtain the information, be it old-fashioned newspapers or Google alerts, you need to be aware of all activity in your market area to enable a fast response to the opportunities that present themselves.