In over 7 years in the South African solar industry, we have seen many solar companies coming and going! But what is the secret of the successful ones? We made some observations, here is the summary as 5 steps of what makes a successful solar business!
Get up to speed!
Whenever starting in a new industry or business field, training should be the first thing to think about, and we are not just saying that because we are a training academy! A training course, especially a comprehensive one like the SuperSolarSchool, helps you to get an overview of the topic. What do you already know? How does the technology generally work? What is to consider? What is important? In the next step you can then get yourself some books, read online articles or watch tutorials but with the training as background you will be able to identify good and reliable sources and distinguish fake news from helpful information.
Get some good products and rtfm!
When the training is done you probably feel like testing out your new skills. The first installation comes up and you now have to decide what products to choose. The market offers many possibilities: Victron, SMA, Fronius, Steca,… just to name a few brands! With the brand then comes a price strategy. Do you want to sell by price or by quality, premium or middleclass segment? The decision is hard to take.
Our recommendation is get a good product. It doesn’t have to be premium category always but make sure to tick a few basic boxes:
- Reasonable warranty conditions
- A manufacturer that will be around long enough to claim warranty
- Technical support, ideally from a smart product manager or well composed manuals
The last point then brings us to one of the golden rules of PV installations:
RTFM – Read the F****** Manual!
After the general training comes the product training and the starting point is always the manual. Especially at the beginning when you have no experience with the products, the installation manual is your bible. Invest a good amount of time to study the manual before you go on site, it will save you a lot of trouble and hours on the phone with tech support!
All in all, a good product not only has good quality but also comes with good instructions because if installed wrongly the best inverter doesn’t do its job. And because studying the installation manual (not just of the inverter but also of your modules, mounting system, batteries) most installers stick to what they know. Especially at the beginning you want to become an expert in one product and slowly broaden your portfolio if needed.
We could go on and on talking about product selection, but here is one last tip that we identified as very useful over the time. Do not shop around and try to get the products at the cheapest price always. Wholesalers like Sinetech, IBC Solar, Segen, Kathea, etc employ experts who can help you with the product selection and who can make sure you are not just buying single components but a whole system that fits together and brings the results you and your clients are expecting. The more your business grows the less time you want to spend on shopping around anyway, rather call your sales rep of trust, let him or her sort out your supply chain and you focus on sales!
Make friends, there is enough sun for all of us.
If all the reading and studying in step number 2 has put you off, here comes help! You don’t have to go through this all alone, a good network can help you to identify the good products faster, learn from other installer’s mistakes and give you moral support when business is frustrating 😊 One part are the wholesalers out there, who will be more than happy to assist you. They want you as clients but it is also win-win, isn’t?
Apart from that, we at maxx solar academy try to make it as easy as possible for you to start your on network. That’s why we frequently organize alumni meetings, have a Facebook group and are always open to put you in touch with the right people if you approach us with a specific problem. After over 7 years in the business we are also pretty close with manufacturers and wholesalers and we are continuously working on ways to put you in touch with them.
Once you found friends in the industry, things become a lot easier. Just let go of the fear that everyone is a competitor, we have seen great projects being implemented and companies growing from collaboration among alumni.
Who are you?
This is no typo, all technicians who wanted to read UPS here! USP stands for unique selling point. When you want to grow your business you have to think about marketing sooner or later. But there is a simple trick: Focus. What is your unique selling point? What makes you different from other companies? It could be that you focus on off-grid installations, that you are an expert in a certain product, maybe you only focus on guesthouses in the area of Somerset West as clients. Think about a USP for you and you will notice that your communication becomes much clearer. When your clients ask you, why should I pick you, you can tell them who you are.
Have you heard of the elevator talk? Imagine you are in an elevator and someone asks you “So what do you do?”. You then have 30 seconds to answer and you better are precise! “I install solar PV systems for wine farms and develop customized energy solutions for them.” sounds much better than “Well, yeah I am in the PV industry…”
Once you have decided on a profile or a target market, it also helps you to streamline your work. There are some jobs that cost you a lot of time and bring little revenue, e.g. when you first have to spend a lot of researching time on new products or technologies. If someone asks you for a solar pumping system but you are good at commercial size designs, just say no!
Work is fun when it is easy. Make it easy by using the right tools.
This tip might be an obvious one, but get the right tools that make your life easier! It starts with a fast computer. How often have you been upset or lost time because or your slow machine? If you often take pictures with your phone, get one with a good camera. For installations, get the quality tools, you will notice the difference between the cheap drill and the good one.
Mellisa du Toit gave a good advice: Startups often save too much! Of course you should monitor your costs but ask yourself what do I spend and what will it give me in return?
It continues with software. Especially when your projects become more complex, there comes a time when the Excel table you are using for sizing your systems is not enough anymore. Switching between the free SMA Sunny design, PV Gis and Google sketch up becomes too much of a hassle. It might be the right time to purchase an actual PV design software, e.g. PV Sol Premium from Valentin. It not only saves you time but also makes your business appear more professional. For some jobs you just cannot hand in an Excel sheet but need a more professional report.
Still not enough? If you have more questions or just want to get in touch, drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 021 825 9713.