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The Sharpest Tool™

How to Build a Successful Home Services Business Online

Cheryl McRae
Josh Smith
Tim Flynn, the founder of Winters Home Services, a thriving plumbing business in the Boston area, shares what he has learned about retaining talent, securing quality leads, and investing in marketing that works.

Josh Smith (00:03):

Hello everyone. And welcome to the sharpest tool podcast. My name's Josh and I am your host, and I'm really excited about today's episode. We actually have Timothy Flynn from winters home services. I want to start out by you introducing yourself and how you really kind of got into the home services industry, built your business in the Boston area. Where did you come from? How did you get into it? And what were some of the milestones you took in order to kind of grow your business that you can recall?

Tim Flynn (00:29):

Well, the, most of most plumbers like me, we start working for somebody else. And I think the first thing that I realized was the guy that I was working for, I always felt like I could do it better than he could. He was very disorganized, lots of papers all over the place, really beat up trucks and nothing really pretty. So I started my company in a pickup truck and a, a wooden cap that my brother made for me to put over the top. So if you can imagine like a wooden cap on top of this black pickup, when it rained, everything inside that got, got soaked. So I started there and then I bought a van one van, and then what I really started to do is think about how plumbers would retire. So I created an exit strategy for older plumbers so that I could buy their businesses.

Tim Flynn (01:19):

So when I started to buy, I think I've bought seven companies, put them all together under the winter's home services name, but they're all over geographically because people in my time, people were doing business with people just by the phone number. So I was buying phone numbers and their customer database, whenever there was a problem, we'll just call the number. Yeah. So I built it up slowly from one truck to three to five to seven. Now we're at about 20, 21 trucks. So, but the business has been very good to me. And when my grandfather was alive, he said, you know, I think it was because my other two brothers were smarter than they went to college. So my grandfather said to me, you know what? You can always be a plumber, a carpenter or an electrician. You'll never go hungry. I said, okay. So I picked plumbing. So I owe him a lot of, a lot of things to steer me in the right direction, but it takes a lot of self-education to grow and rise up from one to two trucks, to 20 trucks,

Josh Smith (02:20):

The biggest growth point in going from one to 20 trucks. What, where did you find one of your biggest bottlenecks and how did you overcome the challenge?

Tim Flynn (02:28):

There's a lot of humps. Um, I think a million dollars in sales was the first major milestone you want to get over. And so that million dollars nowadays is really, you know, it's not that big of a deal anymore, but I'd say the biggest milestone getting over is understanding that you have five or 10 employees and your is just going to follow training. And teaching was something I realized that was more important than revenue education and keeping employees engaged even more important than, than revenue. But every time there was the most uncomfortable feeling that I could go through. I knew I was going through a change and something had to happen. And that uncomfortable feeling is something like you could recognize it by not sleeping. You could recognize it by getting frustrated and yelling. But when you're in that moment, you have to understand, okay, I'm in a growth spurt right now. Something's going to happen. Something's got to change. So sure. What going from three employees to seven employees is probably the biggest change because at that seven employee range, you're going to need inside staff. You're going to need a manual. You need processes, processes, everything. And I had to get self-educated on process and implementation and training and teaching. I actually had to become a teacher rather than a plumber.

Josh Smith (03:44):

Was that difficult for you? That change and that transition? It's a stretch. Yeah,

Tim Flynn (03:48):

It's a stretch, you know, and if you get so comfortable going out and fixing things and dealing with people one-on-one, you can get comfortable and get and be happy there. You could be fine, but if you want to grow, you have to get out of the field and you have to learn how to be a teacher so that you can teach others to do things your way and then get it done your way every single time. Yeah.

Josh Smith (04:08):

I want to pick your brain on a thought that I know a lot of our, a lot of our home, our home service industry professionals are going through, and that's this idea of how to, how to hire the best talent and retain that talent over time. And obviously with the growth that you've been able to see, you've been able to probably do that. Probably not without its challenges, but what what's some of the advice that you can give some business owners who are dealing with the kind of tech struggle right now, where their techs are being poached by other businesses, or they're having a hard time retaining the talent that they do have.

Tim Flynn (04:38):

There's a, there's a lot of poaching for talent. One of the ways you need to go out of this, there's going to be many ways to go at it. The first thing you have to understand, they're not going to come to your door, ready to go. Yeah. They're just not, it's not going to happen. You have to build people. You have to invest your time. You have to invest your money. People always say, what's the lifetime value of a customer, right? And so, you know, you can put money on that over 15 years or 20 years, whatever, what's the lifetime value of employee. I was taught a long time ago. If you train people, they could leave and go work for somebody else. But what if you train them and they stay right? So the lifetime value of employee is worth way more than the lifetime value of a customer. So to look at things and say, how am I going to change myself so that I can become more invested in the people that work for my company? Because if you take care of your employees, they're going to take care of your customers. It's going to create a full circle. That's awesome. So I've been able to implement processes savings. I coach all my people on retirement. I coach them on personal stuff, reading education. Self-education I fly them all over the country to learn different trades. So invest, invest, invest, and they'll stay. Yeah,

Josh Smith (05:54):

I think that's so key. And you know, I want to transition a little bit over into the online aspect. You know, obviously we were in an online digital age, we have to adapt our marketing. You mentioned having a phone number was all that mattered years and years ago. Whereas today we're able to get in front of people in so many different ways. Um, and people are engaging with businesses in a completely different way than they were 20, 30 years ago. What are the top three things that you think you get out of your website today that other people should really be paying attention to

Tim Flynn (06:24):

In no specific order? There, there are things that other marketing companies would say to you, all right, you got to pay attention to page views. You got to pay attention to this, but in reality, what you have to pay attention to is how many times is the phone ring? Sure. Where did it come from? Sure. How many times did you convert those phone calls? What did you convert them for? For money? Right. So your website, I mean, I came back, I was yellow page guy, and those people would deal with you from a position of fear to say, well, if you don't put this big ad and spend $20,000 a month, someone else will take it. And you'll be out of business on the digital side, knowing about page rank, knowing about page speed and knowing about conversion are huge assets for an owner. Yeah.

Tim Flynn (07:11):

And taking your time to understand and asking a lot of questions. And if anyone's evasive about not telling you or sharing information with you run, get away, because it's all about being transparent nowadays. Definitely. It's all about how you could get the most ROI. Yeah. Right. And so another piece of information that I was taught is never spend overspend. So if your marketing budgets 10%, a lot of people would say, okay, I want to do $3 million a year. So my marketing budget is going to be 300,000 and they start to allocate and spend that way. But if you're not hitting those numbers, you're overspending. Yeah. Never spend any more than the previous month sales as a percentage. So if you did 300,000 in one month, spend 30 grand, but if you did 200,000, the next month, you can't spend any more than 20 grand. Sure. Right. So you'll never overspend with that piece of information. And that was taught to me by a friend of mine out in Utah. So that was a lesson learned 10, 15 years ago.

Josh Smith (08:14):

Look at defining like a quality lead for your business. What does that look like?

Tim Flynn (08:18):

It used to be when I was working with other marketing companies, they would mark it in areas that were not where my customers live because of the demographic. And the close rate would go down dramatically. And like, if we ran a hundred calls and closed 20, yeah. That that's just unacceptable. Right. A good lead is someone that finds us online, click to call. That's fantastic. I think that's really good. But somebody wants something done now, something done today.

Josh Smith (08:47):

Yeah. That would be the most ideal,

Tim Flynn (08:49):

The most ideal. Right. And then, you know, if we can handle them today, we'll either, you know, try to schedule them for another day or whatever time is convenient for them. But people are now calling us and saying, Hey, you know, we found you online. I saw you had 250 reviews, you know, something must be going right. And it is especially on, you know, the Google business page. Yeah. Something's going really right there. And I find you very quickly think there's more credibility in 250 leads. If you have a out of five stars, I have maybe like a four and a half star rating with a couple of hundred reviews, which I believe is more credible than a five star rating and seven reviews.

Josh Smith (09:30):

So

Tim Flynn (09:31):

Absolutely. I would say it's anyone listening that, working on your reviews absolutely positively. One of the most important things, there are many things to work on. There's never going to be one, one pill to take there's multiple things to do when your business

Josh Smith (09:45):

Yeah. Especially on the marketing side with however, why do you think reviews have really come back from an online perspective in terms of being one of the most important things that businesses should be

Tim Flynn (09:56):

Well, you know, word of mouth was the, the other way, right? So the new word of mouth is reviews. Totally. And so people may not take a lot just like if I recommended somebody to you, right? Yeah. You might listen and say, yeah, we'll give them a call. But if you look at reviews, people read the reviews and then they'll make a decision now. Right. So the reviews are great. It's a constant battle or an ask with your staff and you have to incentivize people to ask, right. And you only want to incentivize, you can incentivize good behavior or bad behavior. Right. Whichever you choose. Right. I prefer the good behavior. And I want my people to get reviews with their name on it. I'm, I'm encouraging them to build their book of business. Yeah. That's what I'm encouraging people to do. Like, this is what you're, this is your own little business.

Tim Flynn (10:42):

So I give them like their own little, I give him a truck and they have their own compensation system and they can make as much money as they want. Right. I'm responsible for the marketing. I'll deliver the calls. You make sure you do a really well I'll train you and I'll send you all over the country to get whatever you need for training and expertise, but take care of the customers. Yeah. So then that comes full circle every single day. Yeah. Right. So five star reviews got to have them. We get some bad ones too. We just handle them

Josh Smith (11:12):

And you deal with them. And it adds to the authenticity

Tim Flynn (11:15):

Really, right. Without the bad reviews you can improve. And if someone's frustrated and you go, oh, they're a jerk.

Josh Smith (11:21):

And that's the big thing, you know, not every bad review is a jerk, you know? And in the bad reviews really lie. Like you said, the process for improvement or the objections that you need to work on handling with your clients to improve the experience. Overall.

Tim Flynn (11:36):

It's funny too, in my past the marketing companies that I chose, I never saw any reviews on them. Right. If I only, if I only knew right, it would be a lot smarter, but I never saw any reviews. And they're always telling me what you got to get more reviews, man, where

Josh Smith (11:53):

Are yours? Yeah. You know, I think when it comes to the marketing companies you've dealt with in the past, a lot of business owners probably are feeling the same way. Um, I know we get it all the time just in terms of clients that come to us and they're like, you know, I've just, I can burn the burn by so many people. And like they're focusing on all the wrong things. Like you mentioned, what, what have you found to be really successful in your relationship with, uh, the good marketing companies that you've dealt with in the past, um, to be, uh, to have the best working relationship. What's what's that relationship look like?

Tim Flynn (12:24):

Hmm. That's a really good question. I think that if you went back and talked to Michael Sauer and when, when I met, I he'll tell you, I said to him, looked him right in the eye. I don't like you. I don't like anyone in your business because I've been burned so many times. And until I, as the owner got very specific about what I wanted, how many calls in each department do I need? How much money do I want to spend? Yeah. Too often back before scorpion, I was like, all right, how much it's going to cost me to get this much, this many calls. Yeah. It's going to cost you $20,000. Tim. It's going to cost you 25,000. I was so desperate to make the phone ring. I would throw any amount of money at it just to keep my people busy. And man, was that a mistake? Yeah. Some lead generation sources that I can't mention right now on a national level that so leads to multiple people at the same time. We'll take your money and charge you for this quote, unquote air quote lead. And that's a waste of money. Invest in a really good website and invest in your people. Yeah. Winning combination. Absolutely.

Josh Smith (13:33):

W what did you, what information did you come to that you presented with Michael and that allowed you to have Claire extreme clarity on exactly what you need. How did you break down the information? Um, to, to a level that is specific enough?

Tim Flynn (13:48):

So I think everyone would be like a, if you're in a service industry, like I am, we're going to give our guys, you know, three calls a day. Sometimes those calls are good. Sometimes they're bad. And so you want to budget for good and bad, but nowadays the calls are just good. Yeah. So you can budget less. Yeah. So when I've talked to Michael, I said, I need drain calls. I need sales opportunities and I need service. And I flew to Dallas and I met up with Jamie and I met up with a whole bunch of other guys and I put on a presentation, but what I wanted and what it means to me in my average sale and how I close this and how I close that. And it's basically what we're talking about today, but I did that almost two years ago. And I can honestly tell you that it's really worked out well. And I got what I wanted and that's so weird. I'm like, I finally got what I wanted from my marketing company. And so, and I'm sure if anyone's listening, you know, you can, and through a lot of marketing companies and you make mistakes. Yeah. Shrug it off. Yeah. Right. And, and just pick yourself back up and get specific about what you want.

Josh Smith (14:53):

Let me ask you this. What, what, from your perspective, when dealing with a marketing company, a lot of, a lot of business owners are looking for that silver bullet, right? The thing that's consistent every single time, no matter what they can expect, the exact same result, no matter what, the minute that the person signs you on, what level of flexibility or organic movement, uh, with your marketing campaign, do you find you need to have in order to really make it successful, like adapting to changes, changes in the market. Um, additional marketing products is consumer behavior changes. What level of adaptability do you think you really need to have as a business owner, uh, from your marketing's perspective?

Tim Flynn (15:33):

That's another good question, Josh. I haven't felt that way for a long time. I used to feel that way all the time. You just took me back to a spot where I would always like, ah, I need to change seasonally for this, for this, for this business. Right. We have to start, you know, doing no heat calls and no heat stuff it's done now for me. Yeah. In seasonality changes in, I was advertising in the national, you know, lead generation pool of fish. And I was generating on my website. Uh, you know, uh, I'm not, I'm not ashamed to tell you. I was probably spending on my PPC budget somewhere 25,000, 30,000, trying to bring up my budget. I want my budget to be like, say at that time, probably 500,000 a month, but it wasn't hitting it. It wasn't getting it. And now I spend less and I'm getting my budget.

Tim Flynn (16:24):

So it's a contrast of, of time. I haven't worried about what you asked me in about 18 months. Wow. Wow. Yeah. That's actually great for me because I used to worry about it all the time. So nowadays before then it was like, okay, I'm not making budget. I have to spend more money. I need to have another vehicle to generate more calls. Yeah. It would be almost a desperation. Send out a mass mail, send out email, send out yard signs, send out a door hangers, send out, send us, send a kid out to a shopping mall and go put business cards on every car. Yeah. And then I, at one point I made like, post-it yellow post-it notes to make it look like a ups delivery. I was on a front door, but as really like, Hey, call me, you know, it was one of my, one of my 1, 2, 3 things, you know, offer $30 off or something like that. Yeah. But I used to do multiple layers of marketing all at the same time. Yeah. But I, I haven't done that quite some time now.

Josh Smith (17:22):

Is there anything you can attribute to that particular success is a level of communication with your marketing team? Is it the specificity of what you, that, what we just talked about, knowing exactly what you need, what do you think was one of the catalysts and the difference maker

Tim Flynn (17:38):

Level of specificity starts at the beginning and then like taking care of anything. You kind of go over it, look at it. Talk about every month your marketing team is available as much or as little here as you want them. Yeah. And every day you're getting an emails, plural about something. Sure. Every day you're getting something to look at. My, just got my SEO report from Kate. It's probably the best I've ever seen. It's a little bit of a worry. It's nothing. There is the silver bullet doesn't exist. Right. It just doesn't happen. And the silver bullet, uh, if you are specific about what you want, right. You're going to get it, but it's not going to be like flipping a light switch. It takes time. Yeah. It takes time to build. And I think if I had to give one piece of advice to most owners is try to be patient now. Right. Because there is no such thing as just getting it done overnight. And if it is, it's probably not a good thing. You have to build like a relationship. Anything you build over time stands the test of time.

Josh Smith (18:39):

Absolutely. So you have to have a foundation,

Tim Flynn (18:42):

A foundation of trust. A hundred percent. Yeah.

Josh Smith (18:44):

We're in business. Everything's built on trust,

Tim Flynn (18:47):

Right? This is one of the first businesses between winter swim services and scorpion that's has been built when I absolutely positively insulted Michael Sauer. And I said, I don't like you. I don't like anything about you. And then from there it got, it got stronger. Right. So that's what happens. Sometimes you have to have

Josh Smith (19:04):

Those real conversations

Tim Flynn (19:05):

And we did have, and he wasn't afraid of that. He would just, you know, he's like he called over Matt because Matt chameleon talked to him. So he says to me, I'll tell you, he goes, so Tim, uh, so tell me, you know, uh, I know you've had some tough time with marketing companies. I hear it all the time. What do you spend? And I said, you know, I spend, you know, 60,000 and he goes, yeah, well, $60,000 a year, that's a lot of money. I said, $60,000 is a lot of money, but so that's what I spend in a month. He goes, oh, Thank God. I don't spend that anymore.

Josh Smith (19:36):

Explain closing percentage for a business. And like average dollar per sale. Just break that down a little bit. Um, you know, I know we have some business owners are probably still writing their numbers on napkins.

Tim Flynn (19:46):

So everything, every time you want to do something, the phone rings. Yeah. Right. How did that, how did that phone, what number did they dial to make the phone ring? That's the first thing you need to know. So if the phone rings who's answering, I wouldn't recommend going into like a voicemail or something like that. You want a live person. My business picks up dramatically. Once I had a live voice, once that live voice answers, did they convert it and bring it into the call board? Right? So you're going to have a technician run the call. So if your technician goes out and runs the call and all of a sudden they don't sell anything or they don't repair anything, did the need go away for the call? The need, didn't go away. Somebody dropped the ball along the way. Some technician, whatever. If someone calls into the office, back it up a little bit more.

Tim Flynn (20:34):

If someone called into the office with I have a leaking something and someone on the phone didn't handle it correctly. Did the need go away? No, we just blew it. Yeah. So you have to listen actively to what the call is. Coach the person taking the call to get the conversion to the next guy. So one begets the other. Yeah. So if you training your inside staff and you're training your outside staff, then you get to a sale. If your average sale is $300, which is great. What was offered in that, in that $300 sale, could there have been a service plan offered? Could there have been an additional service offer? Right? How do we raise that, that sale right now? I think my average sales, probably it went from say three 50. I think I'm probably in like, you know, $900 range now, a thousand dollar ranch, pretty significantly, you know, as good, a good, it's a really good increase. But once you get the phone call in, everybody has to work together, passing it down the line. Definitely. And then to end the call, you have to have a review. Yeah. That gets the next person to call

Josh Smith (21:40):

Back end. Right. It's a big cycle, big cycle. How did you go? Was it just a matter of training, uh, going from a $300 average ticket value to nearly a thousand? No.

Tim Flynn (21:50):

Uh, I've done a lot of training with the Ritz Carlton. Um, done a lot of training with Dale Carnegie. And so the Ritz Carlton just allows you to have great insight staff skills, answering phone calls. It's a pleasure that you called at the stall, this whole different niceties. You can add to a call. I think that how to deal with people is the biggest piece of training that you can get, because it's not about whoever's, it's all about the person. It's all about the customer. Right? And so a lot of plumbers just don't realize that a lot of plumbers that go that wasted my time. Oh, these people don't want anything. Whereas we're just probably not listening. Listen, listen, listen. Right. So, uh, I was taught one time, you know, mouth to ear ratio, you know, the one mouth two is use it, use it proportionately, but training comes in many different forms, just like marketing. Yeah. So you could do Ritz-Carlton training. You could do training from Dale Carnegie. You could take your own. There's a lot of guys out there that do training now for technicians and owners. I think the biggest piece is that you have to train the owner first, without that piece done to the rest, won't happen.

Josh Smith (22:55):

You got a level of yourself up in some way, shape or form. So you're getting better. Otherwise your people

Tim Flynn (22:59):

Won't give us a good word level up. I like that. Yeah,

Josh Smith (23:01):

Absolutely. Let's talk about LSAs for a minute. Kind of the newest marketing thing. And for those of you listening, LSAs stand for local service ads by Google. So it's, Google's attempt at a pay per lead product that is now showing up in the search results. So you're involved in LSAs what's been your experience and should business owners prioritize that?

Tim Flynn (23:21):

Uh, I would, yeah. If anyone, so LSA, when it went from, I think it was GSA was Google home, sir. It's been a few words. Right? So in most of the major markets, it started in San Francisco, um, with a test, a beta test and it spread over to the east coast. And so we got in, when it first opened up and we had to kick up our, we had to level up our reviews, right. So we had to really do a really good job. And I, I put the call to action out early on, maybe about two years ago, we have to add more reviews. And so what Google wants is the Google wants to give the user what they want. So if someone enters on their phone plumber near me, Google is going to go, okay, you're in Cambridge. And we have a couple of companies we can recommend for you. His co I may not be the number one company. It might be number two, number three, but on there. And so Google actually has, okay, what kind of call did you want today? What, what's the nature? And they actually, people are using their fingers to find, oh, I want dream service. Uh, what time is right for you? And is this company open? And then boom, they put you in front of the person that wants your services. It's it's absolutely brilliant. And I think the fee is like $35 or something. It depends on

Josh Smith (24:34):

Really cheap. Yeah, no, the LSAs is definitely the next big wave of what we're seeing. And I know it can be a process getting involved with that. Did you find that as well?

Tim Flynn (24:43):

So it's a, as far as the process, you want to, all of your employees have to be background checked. Everybody has to be submit documentation that they're who they say they are. Right. And I'll use it again. You gotta, you gotta level up, you gotta raise your game. If you want. The very well-qualified leads of who wants your services today, you gotta, you gotta play a different game. The game is changing. So actually the game's already changed. So, um, and so that means that the owner has to get background checked all my, all my people, everybody in, in the company. And you know what? It's like a little bump in the road. It's not a big deal. Just get it done. And they even pay for the background checks. All you gotta do is just submit them online. Everything's fine. Right. And then for people that, even like the average smaller company, the one, the one truck guy, if you're in Boston, it's crazy for you not to use Google home service. It's crazy not to do it because the phone you, you talked about a few, a few minutes ago, you know, the, the spikes in business businesses were going up and down. This takes the spike out of the business and you can turn it on or turn it off whenever you want. Yeah. That's like, it's freedom. Absolutely.

Josh Smith (25:48):

Um, you know, it's interesting tying this all together. It's I always love this. I heard it one way that this don't look at it as the end all be all either it's another notch in your belt of a potential opportunity to get leads. And so when you start looking at it through that lens and really going back to your point about being extremely specific about what you want, then you can put together the right tools in your toolkit to get you with

Tim Flynn (26:15):

Thing of it is, is that everything you're saying now is true. It's not a sales pitch. It's a hundred percent spot on. So I used to do direct mail. I was sending out maybe like 300,000 cards and you know, what a really good reply was, half of 1%. So if you send out almost a half, a million cards, you're going to get 50 calls. I'm brilliant, right? Not even a couple, it's probably like 30, 40 grand in this car.

Josh Smith (26:41):

Well, we covered a

Tim Flynn (26:42):

Lot, really good information for owners to think

Josh Smith (26:44):

About though. Really? I want to kind of tie it up with a little bow. What, what would you be? The one thing, if, if, if a business owner is listening to this right now, how to walk away with one thing that they could take back to their business to, to change things up for the better and progress towards their goals, what would you say to that?

Tim Flynn (27:01):

Ask more questions and get reviews, ask them, ask more questions, you know, hit me up. I'm available, send an email. That's

Josh Smith (27:11):

I love about you, Tim. And I always want to help out everybody else down the road. And when it comes to,

Tim Flynn (27:17):

I got a lot of stuff to share and I don't want any, my brother and sister companies to get screwed over because we have all been there. Right. So I'm not the protector of the universe, but I can tell you not where to step. Yeah. And that's really what it's all about. Not stepping on the landmines that somebody else knows that it's sitting there because people get lied to every day because I'm almost to make a sale. Right. And that's not, that's not the reason why you want to do what you do never lie to make a sale. Right. You just got to tell the truth. And if they're out there doing business with people that are doing that, just run, run away. Right?

Josh Smith (27:50):

Absolutely. Well, Tim, this has been awesome. Well,

Tim Flynn (27:51):

Thank you so much for inviting me

Josh Smith (27:53):

Again, Tim really appreciate having the out here in California in the booth, on the sharpest tool. And for everybody listening, if you're enjoying all the content, all the value that we're bringing here definitely hit the subscribe button on whatever your favorite podcasting app is. And you can be sure to get more of this awesome content from all of us here at sharps tool catch next time. Thanks.

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