Eight years ago, Johnny Calvert was hand-delivering flyers to promote his residential caulking business. Today, with business growth topping 70 percent, he's turning down new leads.

Calvert attributes much of his business's growth to help he's received from HomeAdvisor, an online home improvement marketplace that uses technology to match homeowners with trusted local service professionals. "Before I joined HomeAdvisor, I was using the old-school, stone-age methods to get business -- relying on flyers, mailing lists and word of mouth," says Calvert. "And, really, I wasn't doing so good."

For local home service professionals like Calvert, who've traditionally relied little -- if at all -- on technology to help them manage and market their businesses, widespread consumer adoption of mobile and on-demand technologies has presented some unique challenges. I spoke with HomeAdvisor President Craig Smith, as well as a few prosperous home professionals, to learn what it takes to overcome these challenges and thrive in the digital era. Here are their top four tips for building a successful, modern-day local services business:

1. Be adaptable.

The consumer landscape has shifted, says Smith, and the historically low-tech home services field now commands a more tech-centric approach to marketing and customer engagement. Case in point: Home service requests will drive an estimated $40 billion through HomeAdvisor's marketplace in 2016 alone, as homeowners increasingly turn to the internet -- instead of to the phone book or their neighbors -- to find and hire local service professionals.

2. Tap into the on-demand economy.

Consumers have come to expect "Uber-like" ordering options for everything from doctor's appointments to dinner, says Smith. And home services are no exception. Of course, the typical small- to medium-sized local services business lacks the resources to build and maintain a reliable mobile app or on-demand scheduling platform. So, the majority will benefit from paying a monthly or annual fee to tap into an existing system. Interestingly, as many as 70 percent of homeowners hire HomeAdvisor pros to complete their projects when presented the option to book an appointment directly on a pro's online calendar, says Smith, demonstrating that customer convenience wins more jobs for local service professionals.

3. Scale for success.

The ability to control your leads is key to building a successful home services business, says Rob Urban, founder of electric services company WireNut. Especially when you're starting a new venture. "In the summer, when we'd get slammed, we could turn down our HomeAdvisor leads and hire staff to meet the demand," he says. "Then, we could turn the volume up and get more leads during the winter, keeping good employees busy instead of laying everybody off and starting from scratch in the spring."

Scalable leads, says Urban, played a significant role in increasing his company's efficiency, its customer base and its bottom line. "As a sole proprietor," agrees Calvert, "I love that I can just turn off my leads for a certain amount of time when things get overwhelming. It's set up to give you the freedom you need to make money."

4. Embrace mobile management tools.

In today's on-demand economy, consumers expect a near-instant response from service professionals -- and any lag in reaction time can cost a business both customers and money. Fortunately, with the advent of cloud-based field service management tools, it's possible (easy, even) to quickly respond to inquiries, schedule appointments, dispatch workers, and send estimates and invoices directly from the field. In fact, with the recent pervasion of mobile management applications and the widespread adoption of mobile technology, field service tools have become more accessible to small- and medium-sized businesses than ever before.

Remarkably, Intuit and Emergent Research report that 78 percent of small businesses will be fully adapted to cloud computing by 2020, more than doubling the current 37 percent. And, according to Smith, the number of HomeAdvisor members using cloud-based management and scheduling applications has increased from 64 percent to 78 percent in just the last year. Of course, it only makes sense that the numbers will continue to grow, says Urban. "Every local services business needs to be thinking about mobile office management," he urges. "At WireNut, we were sending as many as one thousand invoices a month, and there's just no way we could have done it -- or run our business, frankly -- without a mobile management system."

Published on: Jan 4, 2017