As a home inspector looking to expand your list of ancillary services, the commercial property inspection is one option that’s always in demand.
The training and Continuing Education you need to become a skilled home inspector also provide the foundation for establishing yourself as a well-regarded commercial inspector. Although you will hire specialized subcontractors to evaluate the various components and systems of the commercial property, your perspective as a generalist will help you be an effective team leader, as well as assist you in developing a plan of approach to the commercial inspection. Your background as a home inspector also provides the basic knowledge you’ll need to write a comprehensive and organized report for your client, which is the ultimate product of your services.
Whether you’ve already made up your mind to offer commercial inspections or you’re still thinking it over, the best way to get started in this process is to check out the Certified Commercial Property Inspectors Association at www.CCPIA.org. You’ll find tons of resources, including inspection videos, legal document templates, informational articles, and much more.
Here are some steps to take in order to offer valuable commercial inspections, as well as how to effectively market them.
First Things First
Be sure you have the following in place before diving into commercial inspections:
- Your insurance. As a sole proprietor, you may already carry adequate levels of general liability (GL) and errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, but find out from your agent about any riders or additional coverage you should carry as a commercial inspector. Your independent contractors, and specialty and expert consultants should carry their own insurance (and pay their own taxes, etc.), but as the team leader responsible for their presence on the property and subsequent reports, your liability automatically increases. So, be sure you’re covered to anticipate these additions. Read CCPIA’s article Hiring Independent Contractors.
- Your team. Take the time to recruit, vet, hire, and execute contracts with your team of inspection specialty and expert consultants well before you start marketing your commercial inspection services. Once your company has been hired for an inspection, coordinating your client’s and your various team members’ schedules will be simpler if you have these preliminary tasks already addressed. Read CCPIA’s article Creating a Team of Expert Consultants for Your Commercial Property Inspection Business.
- Your report. Since this is the product of your inspection, make sure you have a template or general guide ready to go so that when you have to write up the report and integrate your team members’ evaluations, it will take less time, be more organized, and represent your brand and the high quality of your service.
Effective marketing follows roughly the same rules regardless of industry or services, but there are some specific elements that apply to commercial property inspectors. First, you must decide whether you’ll offer commercial inspections as an ancillary service to your home inspections, or whether you should incorporate a sister company specifically for commercial inspections. There are pros and cons for each option.
Ancillary Service: Pros and Cons
Adding any type of ancillary inspection to your existing home inspection services is easy. You will need to update your website and print marketing materials to reflect the addition. The downside is that, unless you aggressively market your new service, it can get lost among the rest of your offerings. But it’s certainly the most straightforward approach with the least amount of disruption to your status quo.
However, the target market for the commercial inspector is much more diverse than the target market for the home inspector. Depending on your service area, a real estate agent may deal with both residential and commercial properties. For instance, some commercial real estate agents specialize in a specific type of commercial property, such as retail spaces, offices, or apartment buildings. Alternatively, some commercial real estate agents work exclusively to provide property management services to their clients. This is common for apartment and condominium homeowner associations (HOAs). Make sure you research your area’s commercial real estate market so that your marketing campaign is focused and effective.
Standalone Commercial Inspection Company: Pros and Cons
Although it may seem complicated to incorporate a sister company that offers strictly commercial property inspections, remember that you already did this for your home inspection company. Call on your legal and accounting advisers for specific steps to determine whether this is the best alternative. Read CCPIA’s article Registering a DBA to Expand Your Market Reach.
Marketing as a separate entity allows you to compete directly with other commercial inspection companies, which are generally larger and somewhat anonymous firms. Your advantage is that you are a knowable entity – a person who will meet directly with your client one-on-one to answer questions and discuss your research, findings and report. The personal touch is almost always preferred, regardless of the type of property.
Then, you’ll need to create a new or sister website that links to your home inspection website, since you never know what residential business you’ll be able to drum up based on a commercial prospect (and vice versa).
It’s best to keep your branding similar. If you have a custom logo for your home inspection company, especially one created by InterNACHI’s Member Marketing Team, you can carry over similar elements so that both your companies are visually associated with each other. And you can always decide to create something completely new and different to distinguish yourself, but brand recognition is important long-term. When Pepsi comes out with a new flavor, they don’t re-brand, but they do alter their logo slightly to demonstrate the difference.
Just like with your home inspection business marketing, your commercial inspection marketing pieces should include business cards, brochures, postcards, and vehicle magnets. Your standalone or separate commercial company should also have its own dedicated phone number only for your specialty consultants, and commercial prospects and clients.
Once you have your administrative and marketing components in place, you’ll need to reach out to your likely prospects. Here are some ways to market your inspection services directly:
- Social media: Open new accounts strictly for your commercial property inspection company. Common social media outlets include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Follow and friend your service area’s downtown business association, chamber of commerce, and commercial realty companies. CCPIA has free social media graphics for members to use.
- Business review sites: Start new business review accounts and pages for your commercial property inspection company. Common review sites include the Better Business Bureau (BBB), HomeGauge, HomeAdvisor, Porch, Google Business, Alignable, Angie’s List, and Yelp. Read CCPIA’s articles Commercial Inspectors: Claim and Clean Up Your Directory Listings and Do Online Business Reviews Matter?
- Double-team: Whether you’re adding commercial inspections as an ancillary service to your home inspection business or starting a standalone sister company, be sure to add commercial inspections as an offered service to all of your social media and business review accounts and pages. You never know where your clients will come from.
- Mass mailings: Research your market and create a mailing list. Then snail-mail postcards and brochures with your business card.
- In-person: Visit these various entities in person to meet the administrators and agents who you’ll likely deal with as the result of an appointment.
- Follow up: Set Google Alerts, and check the local newspapers (online and hard-copy) and Facebook Groups for these entities so that you can follow up on new commercial real estate listings, new businesses that are opening, and businesses that are closing. All of these properties will require a commercial inspection at some point.
- See for yourself: Drive around your service area, including your metro hub or downtown center, to find out what commercial properties are for sale. Get in touch with the listing agent and ask to meet to pitch your services, or at least to hand them some of your marketing pieces in person.
- Wash, rinse, and repeat: When you’ve completed some commercial inspections, be sure to acquire testimonials from your clients for your website and re-prints of your marketing pieces. Also, have them fill out your own version of a Client Satisfaction Survey. Debrief your subcontractors when necessary, and tweak your services as you continually improve.
The commercial property inspection is a potentially highly lucrative service, regardless of whether you fold it into your home inspection business or create a sister entity. When you decide to take the leap, be sure to check out all that the Certified Commercial Property Inspectors Association – CCPIA – has to offer you along the way. A CCPIA credential can mean the difference between building a solid client base and losing opportunities to the competition.