The Sky is Not Falling: How Small Solar Contractors are Winning

Contractors review plans by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

Contractors review plans by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

Challenges mount in the solar industry, making it look like we’re taking a steep dive in the solar coaster. In the last few months we’ve seen layoffs (SungevitySpruceEnphase), companies going out of (or exiting) business (The Solar Company, OneRoofNRG Home Solar, etc). 

In the midst of these high-profile issues at the larger companies in the industry or amongst the more creative business models, many of our industry’s finest contractors are working away like unsung heroes. 

These are complex times and this industry is still maturing and finding its footing. Here are some of the keys to success I’ve seen at the “unsung heroes.”

They know people are everything - you need a strong culture to succeed. And you need to invest in your people. See our article on company culture about how to invigorate and inspire your employees to get great results.

They don’t over-leverage - If you’re using deposits on one project to pay down procurement for a different project, you are running a little too far ahead of your revenue and need to examine your cost assumptions. The minute you start to have cash flow problems, you will fall on your face. Cash flow problems can come from anywhere, even the weather.

They've considered how to diversify their business - Contractors who perform electrical service, HVAC, or other trades and services will be less susceptible to weather-related issues and will improve their customer acquisition cost because they have other products and service to co-market or re-market to their client base. Consider service. Solar has been focused on growth alone and performing service work is a great way to generate referrals. Running a service division to generate referrals will cost less than many of the crazy marketing ideas you've tried.

They have someone looking ahead - Someone needs to be in charge of your business plan. They should be watching the policies, products, and industry dynamics and make sure that you are adjusting when needed to based on your what your client base wants. 

Don’t let bad press fool you. Solyndra was not “the end” of the solar industry and these “realignments” happening at the bigger companies in the industry only point to a readjustment that will favor contractors who focus.

I've seen several articles recently celebrating local solar contractors. I'm excited to see more voices celebrating the backbone of our solar industry.

Posted on April 13, 2017 and filed under analysis.

Fighting for the Success of Small Solar Contractors with SEIA

Pam is proud to serve the solar industry through her elected role at SEIA. She is fighting hard for programs and policies that benefit small contractors throughout the US. Here are a few photos that sum up her week in DC the first week of April.

Here's a photo of the entire board of directors with Pam right in the middle of the action. The board discussed important strategy elements to better serve the industry.

Here's a photo of the entire board of directors with Pam right in the middle of the action. The board discussed important strategy elements to better serve the industry.

One of the highlights of Pam's trip was meeting with DOE Secretary Rick Perry with the rest of the SEIA Board of Directors to ask for his continued support to fund the National Labs. Afterwards, groups split out to meet with other legislators on Capitol Hill.

One of the highlights of Pam's trip was meeting with DOE Secretary Rick Perry with the rest of the SEIA Board of Directors to ask for his continued support to fund the National Labs. Afterwards, groups split out to meet with other legislators on Capitol Hill.

Finally, Pam ended the week leading a powerful contextual speed networking activity at SEIA's Women's Empowerment Summit, where an attendee afterward described Pam as "the Ellen DeGeneres of Solar" due to her witty, funny, and engaging style.

Finally, Pam ended the week leading a powerful contextual speed networking activity at SEIA's Women's Empowerment Summit, where an attendee afterward described Pam as "the Ellen DeGeneres of Solar" due to her witty, funny, and engaging style.

Posted on April 10, 2017 and filed under eventwrapup.

Lessons Learned at the NABCEP Continuing Education Conference

Pam really enjoyed her first year participating in the NABCEP Continuing Education Conference. She participated in two sessions. The first was delivering a lightning talk on lessons learned from national-scale solar companies as part of a "Future Business Models of Solar Installers" panel discussion with Barry Cinnamon (Spice Solar), Pete Wilking (A1 Contractors, FL), Gary Gerber (Sun Light & Power), and Jeff Wolfe (industry veteran, groSolar founder). She couldn't have been in better company!

Pam also lead a panel the following day called "Best Practices for Maximizing Your Investment in Software" with Paul Grana (Folsom Labs), December Cowen (Unirac), Connor English (PVBid), and Galina Kofchock (Osceloa Energy)

Posted on March 28, 2017 and filed under eventwrapup.

Helping Contractors Grasp Increasing Complexity - The BayWa Partner Summit

Pam delivering "The Soft Cost Treasure Hunt" at the BayWa Partner Summit.  photo credit - Tom Miller, BayWa

Pam delivering "The Soft Cost Treasure Hunt" at the BayWa Partner Summit.  photo credit - Tom Miller, BayWa

We had a great time at the BayWa Partner Summit earlier this month helping contractors from all over the US learn from each other. Pam delivered her signature workshop "The Soft Cost Treasure Hunt" - first looking at the soft costs categorically and then brainstorming together what methods we've used to attack the cost category in question.

The second part of the workshop put contractors in groups to look at a sample solar company and roleplay how - and why - to involve one's whole company in identifying problems and brainstorming solutions.

Want to bring this workshop to your next event or to your company? Contact us for rates!

Posted on March 14, 2017 and filed under eventwrapup.