Mentoring owners of small businesses in the indoor air quality industry (IAQ) is what the National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors (NORMI) has been doing for more than 16 years. It is true, the organization is a training and certifying trade association, but it's not just about getting certified—it's about building a successful business.
As a small business owner, you wear a lot of "hats". You may be wearing all of them right now, or you may be utilizing the services of specialized professionals for various aspects of your business, such as bookkeeping, accounting, or legal counseling. It is easy to understand the value of seeking the advice and ongoing services of experts in these fields, but oddly, when it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of building a small business, many people try to figure it out all on their own. Many people entering the IAQ industry will secure credentials to put on their website and business cards by taking a training course, becoming certified, and getting licensed (where applicable), but then, sadly, they often become a lone ranger. Then, after a few years, they wonder why their business didn't grow.
Just as small business owners use the ongoing services from experts in accounting and the legal realm, they must also tap into ongoing support from experts in their own industry. It is vital to the initial and continued success of their business.
Professional networking is one of the keys to success
Being a part of a network of indoor air quality professionals brings with it many benefits and rewards. One of the most valuable to me has been the camaraderie and friendships I have developed with fellow business owners and industry professionals over the past 40+ years in the construction and indoor air quality fields. Building a business is all about building authentic relationships—not only with our customers but also with other IAQ business owners and industry-related professionals. Word of mouth can be friend or foe. It can quickly build up a positive reputation or tear one down.
Early on, many business owners do not understand the double-edged sword of professional networking. We all understand how a negative reputation can lead to fewer customer jobs and even business failure. We also all understand how positive word of mouth can increase calls and jobs from customers. But how can a positive reputation in the industry among fellow IAQ companies help open new doors to business opportunities? Following are just a few examples:
- Small-to-mid-sized remediation companies often ban together to handle jobs too large for them to manage individually.
- Mold assessors often recommend mold remediation companies because their customers needing remediation service typically ask them for remediator referrals.
- Mold remediators often make referrals to mold assessment companies when recommending initial IAQ testing to their customers because property owners usually ask them for assessor referrals.
- Mold assessors and mold remediators refer property owners to other companies when their schedule is full.
- Mold assessment and mold remediation companies subcontract work out to other companies when their schedule is full and they don't have enough crew to handle a job.
Silence is not golden
Early on, many business owners are unable to fully grasp the power of professional networking. They view the investment of their time and energy through short-term lenses instead of looking toward their long-term future in the industry. They do not understand a lack of professional networking will likely result in slower business growth and lower service quality for their customers. When people ask industry insiders about a specific company and find out it is not a well-known company, it raises doubt in their minds. IAQ business owners can't expect to get "help" from their competitors, but most will acknowledge their awareness of a competitive company when asked. The lost opportunity cost is huge when a business owner chooses not to network or join a professional trade group. Word of mouth—whether good or bad—can travel fast and furious, just like fire, so use it to your advantage.
Building a business with a solid reputation does not happen overnight. View it as a marathon, not a sprint. But joining a trade group AND becoming active in it can certainly expedite the process. There is not enough space in one article to share the number of costly mistakes I have seen small IAQ business owners make that could have avoided had they been following the best practices taught through a trade association. Please take my word for it, you don't want to fly solo as an indoor air quality business owner. It is not good for you, it is not good for your business, it is not good for your customers.
Joining a trade association can be like opening the doors to a handful of silent partners you can tap into for advice on equipment, specific case solutions, technical know-how, and industry trends. At NORMI, we provide free weekly continuing education, so members benefit from a steady stream of information on industry challenges relating to COVID-19, holistic solutions through advanced air purification technologies, expert guest speakers, and reduced pricing on equipment and business services. At these CE training sessions, members also have the opportunity to ask questions regarding specific situations they face in their businesses, drawing from the experience of NORMI leadership. Members can also request particular topics to be covered in CE classes and benefit from courses focused on individual business growth and development assessment.
Expedite business growth through the experience of others
At NORMI, we are very transparent with our members. We have shared what we have seen working for IAQ businesses during these unprecedented times. We have also shared the steps senior NORMI leadership formulated to ensure the organization met the increased needs of members during the COVID-19 lockdown phase, so all of us would not only survive but thrive.
The principles behind these steps can be applied at the individual company level to grow a business and boost the bottom line anytime, not just during global pandemic market conditions.
- Expand existing products in increased demand due to the shift in market conditions. NORMI expanded its Certified Sanitizing Professional (CSP) training course initially created after Hurricane Katrina to reduce microbial loads of molds, bacteria, and viruses in indoor environments. The newly enhanced CSP training program was specifically designed to address the current pandemic and meet the needs in the market created by COVID-19.
- Expand customer base to new people and markets. NORMI expanded its customer base to include the throng of people entering and expanding into the sanitizing field due to the global pandemic.
- Increase distribution channels that work more effectively to get products into consumers' hands, given market conditions. When NORMI could not hold classes in public venues due to COVID-19 restrictions, NORMI leadership secured a physical location of its own. Once restrictions opened up some, NORMI safely conducted courses with just a few students in attendance and shared the courses live online for remote students. These live webinars were available globally, which enabled NORMI to continue to meet the training and certifying needs of established and new IAQ professionals.
- Support your industry in times of increased challenges and opportunities from changing market conditions; step up as a leader in the IAQ industry. NORMI gave unlimited free access to the newly-enhanced CSP course at the beginning of the pandemic to enable IAQ professionals to become trained and certified in sanitizing, so they could offer sanitizing services to businesses in their communities. After the free CSP course offering, it was made available for a nominal fee for an additional extended period.
- Support your community to make sure needs are getting met in your area of specialty. By offering free access and reduced pricing to the CSP course, NORMI was able to create a workforce of Certified Sanitizing Professionals trained and certified to meet the sanitizing needs of businesses in each respective community.
- Support businesses with specific needs due to market changes. NORMI designed the CSP program specifically with the sanitizing needs of businesses in mind. Business owners want guarantees that the sanitizing process is done correctly. They want assurance their indoor environment is cleaner, healthier, and safer for their employees and customers. To provide business owners with documentation that proves the efficacy of a sanitization protocol, NORMI issues the NORMI Certificate of Sanitization. After NORMI member businesses have completed the sanitizing processes and implemented any holistic solutions, they submit post-testing to an independent third-party laboratory. Once laboratory testing has confirmed acceptable levels of indoor microbials post-sanitizing, NORMI issues the Certificate of Sanitization to the business.
- Identify industry trends and evolve with them. Due to COVID-19, sanitizing and overall IAQ will continue to be major concerns to business owners, management teams, transportation companies, schools, hospitals, and other public entities. Business owners and management teams will demand documented proof, such as the NORMI Certificate of Sanitization, to prove the efficacy of sanitizing and air purification processes. These certificates will be prominently displayed on businesses' walls, much like the health inspection certificates in restaurants. Stickers on doors and table tent cards in restaurants will further assure customers that the environment has been sanitized. These certificates, stickers, and table tent cards will contain the company's name that performed the sanitizing service, acting as a form of advertising for the company.
- Give back by supporting a nonprofit with a personally meaningful charitable mission. NORMI donates 10% of the fees from each proctored examination and certification to a nonprofit of the member's choice out of three prescreened options. Selecting a charity for your company to support that is meaningful to you can add purpose to your IAQ career.