Happy November, readers! It’s hard to believe the year is almost over. This past month went especially quickly for me as I was on the road for most of it! I’ve been to Florida, Minnesota, Arizona, and Ohio, and now I’m looking forward to spending the rest of the year at home, relaxing and enjoying the holidays with friends and family.

One of my favorite things about traveling for work is sitting in on educational sessions at industry conferences. The topics are all relevant, so it’s always hard to choose which ones to attend. One of my absolute favorite sessions I attended this fall happened at Nexstar Network’s Super Meeting in Phoenix. The session was about attracting and retaining top talent — something many contractors struggle with —and was presented by ServiceTitan’s Vice President of Customer Experience Tom Howard. He did not disappoint! I’m going to share a few of his insights in my column this month.

It all starts with the job ad and where you promote it. Attendees gave a variety of examples, including billboards, radio, word of mouth, LinkedIn, Indeed and YouTube.

“All of these are super valuable resources,” Howard said. “You guys are adapting and trying to get things online. One of the things I would do is make Facebook one of my primary sources. I know this sounds crazy, but Facebook has generated so many leads for us. I think that Indeed and LinkedIn are awesome. You can promote your ads and everything else there. And when people are looking for a job, that's where they're going to go in many cases to find those jobs. But, the reality is, a lot of times, you need to find people that might not be looking for a job. Where are they out there? Facebook.”

After that revelation, Howard then begged the audience make sure they're not using the same old job ad — you know the one. It generically says, ‘Hiring in the [fill in city] area. Looking for technicians, installers and CSRs. Competitive pay and benefits.’

“What does that even mean? It doesn’t make sense half the time,” Howard explains. “Every contractor in here thinks they pay the most, right?”

The next step is to differentiate yourself from your competitors. The best way to do this is by offering something unique.

“I have this thing — I actually stole it from Ryan Snow, who used to be my boss when I was in college,” Howard said. “He told me about this thing called R&D. At ServiceTitan, research and development costs us a lot of money. Ryan says it’s a lot cheaper to do rob and duplicate. Find the best ideas, steal them and do them better!”

Howard went on to explain an idea he stole to target not prospective employees, but their spouses.

“If you’re posting ads on Facebook about the cool things you’re doing in the office, the company party, the company retreat, have your technicians [on video] talking about your awesome benefits,” he says. “One of the things we did is offer free college tuition to anyone that works for us. And I know people are going, ‘Oh my gosh, how are you going to afford that?’ The reality is 99% of the time, it’s community college that they want to go to because they want to get a degree in air conditioning or plumbing. How much does community college cost in Fresno, California? It’s $800 a year. Does it cost you more than $800 to get a technician live and going when you’re putting them through training? It’s a lot more. We offer competitive benefits, competitive wages — every other air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and freaking fast food joint is saying that. So people are going to continue to scroll through. If I say free college tuition to everybody who works at Lee’s, it’s saying something. Most of my competitors don’t do it, and it costs me less than $20,000 a year for people who take it.

“Imagine Mrs. Jones is sitting at home scrolling through Facebook and her husband is out there working really hard, making $20/hour with mediocre benefits and comes home to complain about his job every day,” he added. “What does she think when she sees my ad? Guess who’s getting an earful when he comes home at 9 p.m.?”

The added advantage is retaining employees who are really looking to improve themselves because retention is the next big key after finding new employees. Howard gave examples of additional strategies his company employs to retain talent, including massage chairs, a pool table, an in-office gym with showers and a giant Buck Hunter game.

“Buck Hunter is awesome because you can apply for a card, swipe your card and it will track your ranking nationwide,” Howard said. “If you get into the top 128, there’s a national competition you go to once a year. I tell all my people if anyone makes it to the top 128, I’ll pay for plane tickets and hotels to go to the national competition. These guys were playing Buck Hunter every day at 5 a.m. before their shifts. It’s one way to make sure they’re always son time. These guys were getting good — no one’s made it to the top 128 yet. And I can tell you, the day Buck Hunter broke down, it was one of the worst days in my company. I had more complaints for that than if a truck broke down or anything else.”

The bottom line is plumbing and HVAC contractors need to market themselves to potential employees just like they market to their customers. Be creative to make your company stand out from all the other companies looking for help.