People who are not from a major city are asking what it’s like here right now, in the Chicago Southwest suburbs. I just left a project walk-through on W. Huron St., and in a word — desolate. Even all of the buildings, stores, parks and streets — they are all virtually empty. The streets, for the most part, are always busy here, so the fact that they are completely void of cars, bikes, people running, walking pets, delivering packages and the general hustle and bustle to and from work — it’s just plain odd. The irony is that on May 1, Friday morning, the residential high-rise garage is filled with cars. Later today, it was announced that Illinois would lift some of their mandates on some businesses soon, but the lasting effects will be felt for many years to come.
So what does all this mean when I’m physically going to measure a project and sell my company’s products and services? I’ve decided to be empathetic to customers and to the reason our Great City remains like this since it was locked down just after St. Patrick’s day on March 21st. After all, I really don’t know the clients or their families, their lifestyles or political philosophies. I do my best to stay professional while keeping conversation to a minimum during this stressful time.
I ask how they and their family’s health are doing, but it’s not just casual conversation any more. If they say “all is good,” I move into the order of business, and the details as I always have. I explain our process, products used and professional background that I may not have covered in our first introductions on the phone or in an email.
If they are not well, I explain the installation start date will be dependent on everyone’s clear test results. If one of our crew calls off, a replacement will step in to finish the install or a return date will be made based on cleared results on our end.
The rest of the process is pretty much intact as before, except I explain that we like to be the only trade scheduled for the day on their project. We ask to have minimal contact throughout the day now. For prevention we wear masks or respirators, face shields or goggles and hearing protection. We’ve already adopted PPE into daily use to combat exposure to silica dust. Now we also include a job site HEPA Air Scrubber. Hand sanitizer and general hygiene have always been — and remain encouraged — for our company. Clients and subcontractors working with us have been receptive to these logical changes, if not totally accepting of the explanations about the changes in both our process and daily company routines.
Daily prospecting for new business has been uniquely different since COVID-19. First and foremost, the phone has been quieter; also I visit fewer places daily so I don’t have the same level of contact with people currently. For almost three decades of business in this industry, I’ve generated a great deal of profitable contracts and leads through simple contact with people, and sharing information about myself and what services I provide. That personal contact is now all but eliminated. I can’t hand out a business card, offer a simple facial gesture like a reassuring smile or a firm handshake upon first meeting someone or closing a business deal. So, it’s challenging and awkward to work around. These fundamentals for business success have been stripped away by the pandemic, government mandates and the need to preserve my health — as well as everyone else’s health I come into contact with — along with their friends and family they live with.
I decided early on to go back to my roots and just call, text, and video call friends, clients, peers –everyone — to see how they have been doing healthwise, and in business. I also ask for their perspectives on how they have been adjusting to their daily local changes so we can compare notes on the subject. I’ve learned a lot in these conversations and extended them into my social media community. For instance, I learned in these conversations of the need for masks and face shields for several area hospitals. Through my contacts, I was able to supply some face shields. And a mosaic artist, Betsy Rocket of Vida VaVoom in Fort Wayne, Ind., answered my Facebook request for anyone who could help make masks with the fact that she is also a seamstress. She rose to the occasion and supplied about 100 much-needed masks (Ed. Note: Rocket is willing to make masks for anyone in need of cloth masks. Contact her at 260-579-8114).
This made me realize that some of these changes in our current culture are almost necessary. I feel early site visits are not really as essential now that we have such high-quality video and picture capabilities right on our phones. Based on this new kind of data sharing and discovery phase with the client, we can form preliminary budgets and soft terms. As a result, I feel these new efforts save me valuable company resources as well as time that can be spent in other more profitable ways.
Paradigm shifts are not a bad thing but are not always easy for everyone to adjust to. Like it or not, the way we have done business until now has been forever changed by social distancing precautions we’ve needed to take in this pandemic. Meeting clients can happen through social media contact or contractor apps on our phones like Linkedin, Alignable or TraLaMa.
As I touched on earlier, I believe sharing pre-qualifying questions in context of the project scope, timelines and budgets along with preliminary measurements/prints are imperative before any on-site visits are made. I provide benchmark updates given by video recordings or virtual walkthroughs instead of in person to limit contact. Payments are mostly being processed by electronic transactions (instantly) by bank-to-bank transfers or money processing apps like PayPal, Cash App or Venmo instead of meeting in person for cash, checks or Square to change hands.
It’s 2020, so for the most part, I expected these futuristic technologies and safety precautions. I just wish we had the flying cars, personal jet packs and holographic television! I know — wishful thinking. Hey we do have Zoom though!
Be healthy and live well everyone!