Each year, when pundits publish their national construction outlook forecasts, I wonder how many of us really depend on them. As the late Speaker of the House from Massachusetts, Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr., used to say, “All politics is local.” I think that applies to most of us when we think of the construction forecasts. It really doesn’t matter if the forecast offers an accurate prediction for a state or region unless I live and work there. And, the forecasts won’t help if the local area in which we work does not show an increase in immediate projects.
So, do you wait for the construction forecast before you market your services? I hope not. I grew up hearing that you make your own luck. That means, unless you take action, you will have to settle for what happens to you when outside forces make it happen!
Regardless of the outlook in your area, I am pretty certain that companies exist—hopefully, such as yours—that have remained busy during the construction downturn. If you’ve made your own luck by increasing your marketing and sales efforts locally, then by your actions, you have likely already decided the predictions don’t mean much to you. You don’t have time to care because you have stayed busy, getting and doing the work that resulted from your efforts.
One of the ways you can approach the marketplace involves making calls on previous customers to offer an audit of their electrical and fire alarm systems. It might surprise you how many owners are too busy to think about fixing problems they don’t directly associate with daily business. You can save them money by taking over the maintenance of their systems on a contract basis. Or, at a minimum, you can offer them a proposal for on-call maintenance. Once they know you can respond to their calls, your workload inevitably will increase.
Many businesses must deal with oversight authorities, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the local fire inspector. These agencies can cause a slowdown in production at an owner’s facility while the owner addresses the issues the agencies raise. Sadly, this often takes place in a crisis mode. If an owner employs your services to address such issues pre-emptively—before the inspector arrives at the property—you can help the owner minimize the interruption caused by responding to those potential issues. Offering to take care of those issues before they become a crisis gives you additional business opportunities.
Obviously, you will need to know and understand the OSHA and fire alarm requirements that apply to the specific property. For example, you can now locate all of the OSHA requirements online at www.osha.gov. These rules apply to almost all businesses, whether they include such electrical equipment issues as security/crowd control for retail businesses or safety and fire alarm requirements for industrial businesses.
Performing an audit of a fire alarm system or determining if the fire alarm system remains in a proper working condition can provide you with additional business. Likewise, helping the owner determine if the fire alarm system still meets their fire protection goals adds yet another relatively simple way to increase business in a slow economy.
There are many reasons why an owner would need your help with his or her system. Perhaps the system produces too many false alarms and the fire department has begun to issue fines. The owner may unknowingly initiate these alarms through a change in the day-to-day operations. Or, the owner may have altered the property in such a fashion that a smoke detector was placed in an ambient condition unfavorable to its normal operation. Excessive false alarms may also occur when the original fire alarm system has reached the end of its useful life and has become obsolete. By advising the owner to upgrade, you will help the owner ultimately reduce expenses and avoid the issue of a costly “crisis” replacement when the system catastrophically fails.
Of course, a successful fire alarm system audit will depend on your knowledge of the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code as well as local code requirements. Along with your knowledge of the codes and standards, you must also possess knowledge of the proper application and placement of smoke detection and all other fire alarm system initiating devices and appliances.
Furthermore, never assume that the current owner of a building had any input in the design of the fire alarm system currently installed at the property. Knowing this possible disconnect between owner and design process, you have yet another reason to discuss the building owner’s operations and how the fire alarm system should help achieve the owner’s fire protection goals.
As you work with an owner, you may discover that another new goal may consist of adding some form of emergency communications to the features of a particular facility’s fire alarm system. This upgrade would obviously provide a benefit to those retail businesses that wish to improve crowd control during normal and emergency modes of operation.
Forecasts aside, the best way for you to generate more work—anytime, but especially during a slow economy—is to market your skills and till the fields in your own backyard!
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.