We recently had a solar installer, brand new to the industry, send us an email asking where they should start in order to make their business a success. Should they invest heavily in marketing? Start spending their days making cold calls? We knew just what this installer needed to hear and were glad to point the business in the right direction. They needed a business plan that began with a data-based overview of their business landscape, followed by a sincere focus on the needs of the customers they had recently established. By following these two pieces of advice, we assured them that they could develop an effective business plan in today’s market and stand out from the crowd.
And what a crowd it is! The solar energy market was $52 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach over $223 billion by 2026. That makes now a perfect time to start developing a solar installation business plan and get in on a rapidly growing industry. In this post, we'll explain a little about how to get started planning your solar business and how to use a customer experience platform to give you an edge over the competition.
Secret 1: Begin your solar installation plan by surveying the business landscape
The first step to a successful solar installation business plan is getting a feel for the market in your area. This process can be boiled down to three major steps:
Identify major competitors
Knowing who you're competing with will give you a good idea of how much competition you can expect, but that's not the only reason to scope them out. To win customers from them, you'll need to be better. What prices are they offering, what customer experience do they provide, and what services do they perform? Know what your competitors are doing to know what the bar is for you and strive to exceed it. Make sure to look at both local and national players. Whether it’s the solar business down the street or Tesla, any competitor that your customers may side with should be considered a risk worth assessing.
Identify potential allies
As a business owner, the connections you make are often the strongest levers for growth, especially early in your business’ lifespan. What other green energy companies are in your area that aren't direct competitors? For example, an electric car dealership might be willing to enter into a cross-promotion arrangement with you. Most customers who go solar want to electrify their lives. Solar PV is the gateway to green energy, inspiring consumers to invest in everything from heat pumps to batteries. This makes an ideal opportunity for teaming up with professionals in related fields.
Understand the local market
Now that you know who your competitors and allies are, it's time to take a closer look at your customers. What are the demographics of the area you'll be working in? What budget will your customers likely be working with? How much are they paying in electricity? What incentives are there in the area? Are other electric home options such as heat pumps viable? All these questions will inform which types of products and services you'll offer and at what price.
Related: What is a heat pump?
Secret #2: Understand the legalities
Staying in compliance is a big part of keeping a business afloat and keeping yourself out of legal trouble. There are two aspects related to the legal side of solar installation that you should research for your area as you build your solar installation business plan:
- Subsidies and tax breaks — Customers can benefit from both subsidies and tax breaks for clean energy such as solar. However, the programs vary from locality to locality. Know the fine print of the programs that are available in your area and what the process is for applying to these programs.
- Legal requirements — Check your local laws to see what types of licenses and permits you need to run a solar installation company. You will likely also be required to carry some type of insurance.
Your local solar chapters can help you navigate these tax incentives, insurance requirements, and the entire permitting process. By joining SEIA and other regional groups, you join a community that can help you research and strategize.
Secret #3: Develop a digital presence
Having a digital presence is essential for any company, and you should budget for the necessary marketing and software spend in your solar installation business plan. In today's world, a digital presence entails three facets: Your website, social media, and the tools you offer your customers.
Your website is where customers will come to learn more information about your solar company and its products and services. It should also include resources for communicating with you, booking an installation, and as we'll see later, tools for existing customers to get information about their installation. Having a professional-looking website is vital to making a good first impression on your potential customers, so don't be afraid to spend money on a good designer.
Nearly every brand is on multiple major social media accounts today. Social media is a convenient way to interact with both customers and potential customers alike. Interested parties aren't going to visit your website every day for the latest news about your company, but they will scroll through their social media feeds every day. Having accounts on these platforms gets your news in front of their eyeballs.
The energy-conscious customer can open an app on their phone and see how much electricity every light bulb in their house is burning. They should be able to do the same to monitor the status of their solar equipment.
Ideally, the same platform that provides this functionality will allow them to track the progress of their installation through each phase, provide them with access to all documentation, and enable easy referrals and review generation later on. From the first steps through the life of the product, providing easily accessible information is key to delivering a great customer experience.
Secret #4: Wow your customers
Getting the business up and running is the end of the first chapter, but the next chapter is the most important. To ensure a happy ending for your business, you'll need to provide a level of customer satisfaction that goes beyond the expectations of those who hire you. Keeping customers happy will keep them coming back to you, but it will also build your brand reputation and allow for word-of-mouth advertising.
Before you open your doors and take on your first customer, put a plan into place to deliver a stellar customer experience. The steps below will help get you started.
Develop a culture of customer service
Your employees should know how important it is to your business that your customers' needs are met. However, they shouldn't have to spend all their time answering questions that could be easily provided with technology and a customer portal.
After all, solar customers have a ton of questions. They've been conditioned by food ordering apps and large retailers like Amazon to get up-to-the-minute information immediately and on their own. While your employees should be able to treat customers professionally at all times and have the skills to answer their questions, your technology stack provides homeowners with the tools they need to get answers quickly, without waiting on a human.
Make customer feedback easy
Communication is the backbone of a good customer experience. Customers need to know that their voices are being heard, and they need to receive the information they want from you in a timely manner. The first half of that equation is solved by making it easy for them to come to you with concerns. You should print your contact information on the materials you provide, as well as put in place an easy way for them to send you messages.
This is all made easier if you provide your customers with an app to keep them in the loop. An app can provide a single dashboard for all your customer interactions, making it easier than ever to communicate with them by providing easy access to relevant information and a streamlined workflow. Because it eliminates the need to call your staff or wait on hold, the whole solar customer journey becomes more efficient for both you and your homeowners.
Make information easy to obtain
As mentioned, homeowners will have many questions and concerns during the installation process. They may have basic questions about solar technology or more specific questions about their installation. Answering these questions takes time away that staff could spend doing other things. Even worse, waiting for someone to get back to them decreases that customer experience and increases the likelihood of negative reviews.
A customer experience portal is essential for managing this need. A good portal will be able to integrate with your customer management system to automate many of the tasks that populate information the customer may be interested in. Through the portal, they can get up-to-the-minute information about their installation with little effort on your part. The customers get answers more quickly, and your staff spends less time answering questions.
Throughout the process, it's also important for them to be able to receive documents and return them to you when necessary. From your customer experience portal, they should be able to easily access any documents related to their installation and even digitally sign them for as frictionless an experience as possible. This is not only convenient for the customer but saves even more time for your team so that they can focus on actually executing the project.
Maintain the relationship post-sale
Customers spend a lot on solar installations. As a result, many want to see exactly how their investment is paying off. A customer experience portal should be able to integrate with your solar monitoring system. With this integration in place, your customers can log into their account on the portal and see real-time data about the status of their system, their energy consumption, and their savings – anytime they want.
The up-to-the-minute data has the added benefit of keeping the customer regularly using the app to get information on their solar energy, keeping your brand fresh in their mind. Combined with the great experience you've given them, this creates a powerful tool to increase word-of-mouth advertising and upgrade the homeowner from a satisfied customer to a great source of referrals.
Secret #5: Build a referral program
Word-of-mouth advertising, born from a good experience and an ongoing relationship with customers, is a fantastic way to grow your company. That said, your solar installation business plan should also include an official referral program. Don’t leave referrals to chance. By setting up a program that rewards customers for referring their friends and associates, you can supercharge the impact of word-of-mouth advertising.
A good referral program, like everything else in the customer's journey, must be as free from friction as possible. The more steps a customer has to take to refer a friend, the more likely they are to quit the process before finishing.
A referral program integrated into your customer experience platform can remove friction while also automating many of the tasks of referral program management. When looking for a platform, choose one with this feature already built in for a seamless experience.
How Bodhi can help
Bodhi is a company built by solar industry experts. We've developed a customer experience and referral platform that can integrate with your other business software to provide a powerful time-saving tool for your staff and customers. Schedule a demo today to see what it can do.