How to start up and grow a business in the CEDIA channel

Two years ago I was working in a completely different industry, but had my eye on a career change into the wonderful world of home automation…

headshot of Richard Colman, Home Technology Professional & Founder of Luxe Smart Homes

From the outside, there seemed to be enough opportunity in London, the South East, the UK and even the world to help people seeking intuitive technologies for their homes which would greatly benefit their lifestyles. Large technology companies were providing the hardware, and they would have you believe that anybody could set these devices up within a few minutes. But of course, the reality for most is that to really integrate these pieces of kit; it can take hours of tinkering with settings, engaging in support communities or watching endless ‘how-to’ videos on YouTube.

In this article, I want to share what I have learned since I set up my own custom install business and what to focus on for those looking to set their own business up.

Where to start…

The most important thing you need to do to succeed is to find clients. As obvious or as simplistic as that might sound, it can be very easy to fall into a mindset that starts to limit your potential customer base from the beginning. If you’re just starting out on your own, it’s going to be a while before you’re entirely kitting out a central London apartment. There is a certain degree of climbing the ladder; I’m still looking upwards myself. The good news is that thanks to these big technology companies, there are lots of people looking for your services.

Philips Hue Signe light kit deployed in living room with TV

Products like Nest, Sonos, Logitech, Ubiquiti/Netgear, and Philips Hue are all ready to go devices that can easily be installed by someone new to the field. As your projects get larger and more complex in size and specification, there are other technologies out there to fulfil them with.

So, where do you find these people who want to give you business?

Firstly, social media is an excellent way to showcase your skills through live videos or pictorial messages or posts. If being in front of the camera isn’t for you, then you can still post images of work you are proud of or locations you want to do more work in. Ensure you hashtag every piece of content and engage with the people who regularly like or comment on your posts. It can be quite a consuming task if you over think about the content, but if you can dedicate around 15 minutes a day to social media activity, you will start to gain a following. New clients can see this, and they will have more confidence in your ability.

Secondly, don’t underestimate the value in networking. I believe this is a mindset proposition. When you’re on site speaking with other trades, tell them what you do and don’t be afraid to show off some of the technology you are installing. Make sure you have business cards ready to hand over since the likelihood is they will know someone, either a client or another contractor that might need your services. Likewise, listen to them and look out for opportunities for them. If you can call someone up that you met on site and say you’ve got some work for them then they should be open to paying you back. These contacts that you build up can also be leveraged in the future if something comes up on a survey or quotation that is out of your level of expertise.

Making a name for yourself

Finding clients is the hardest part but delivering what you say you are going to do is as important in my opinion. If you deliver what you said you were going to do and the client enjoyed the entire experience and found it stress-free, they are likely to refer you to their friends and their network. It’s crucial therefore that you know what you’re talking about and the best way to keep abreast of this is training and continuous personal development.

CEDIA offers a wide range of training courses aimed at raising levels across the entire custom install industry, and I’d highly recommend anyone who is starting out, to go through all of these educational pathways. What you will learn on these courses will distinguish you from what you may have learned if you’re coming from a different trade. It will also begin to narrow your focus of your product or service offering in order to reach your ideal client.

Control4-automated living room and TV in smart home

In addition to CEDIA education, attend all the training programmes put on by manufacturers and distributors since you will begin to identify, which products are going to satisfy your customer’s needs. You will also get to spend a lot of time in breaks with the distributors and they can be an excellent resource in troubleshooting or specifying equipment once you’re up and running.

“Keep the product offering simple and only change it when your requirements become more significant, or something else comes along that is better.”

Once you have identified which products you think will work best for: you to install, your client to use once installed and for you to make enough money to survive, then master these products. The more you install a small suite of products, the more you will be able to offer a credible solution to potential new clients. The large technology companies are moving into the home automation space for a reason; there is product to sell that wins for the client and wins for them too. As a result, there are a lot of companies out there making something similar. I’d avoid offering lots of different products to clients since it can make things confusing and it will require more expertise to learn the slight nuances of installing each one. Keep the product offering simple and only change it when your requirements become more significant, or something else comes along that is better.

Lastly, think of your peers as a community and not as direct competition. I’ve found that many companies were in a similar position to myself when I started out and we all stay in touch. I’ve met company owners who have been in the field for 10-20 years, and they too have also helped me along the way.

The smart home space is due to double in size in the next five years, so there is plenty of opportunity out there for everyone to earn a living from.  As I touched on, your community and network will also be able to help you and advise you if you get stuck. Distributors and manufacturers are also keen to see you succeed and are usually happy to help.

Good luck!

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