Each year, Solar Power World compiles a list of the Top 500 solar contractors in the U.S., based on the kilowatt capacity of projects they installed, developed, or helped construct in the previous year. We were thrilled to see many companies on the 2018 list that use Aurora solar design and sales software. We reached out to these companies to get their insights for running a successful solar business.
In response to our question, “What advice and tips would you give to solar companies to operate successfully?” we saw several themes emerge. The responses we received from our customers highlighted quality and credibility, adaptability, and value as key factors in solar contractors’ success.
If you’re considering what your company can do to maximize success in the solar industry read on for advice from some of the most prolific U.S. solar installation companies in 2018.
Quality and Credibility
Perhaps unsurprisingly, quality and credibility were two of the key factors for solar company success highlighted by the solar contractors we spoke with. Specifically, contractors highlighted the need to have a thorough understanding of all aspects of your customer’s solar purchase.
Craig Pals, cofounder of Tick Tock Energy, Inc.–a family-owned solar company in Illinois, founded in 2006–summed up his advice for solar companies in one word: “Credibility.” Elaborating on some of the elements that go into that, he recommended that contractors, “Thoroughly understand electric bills and rates, [and deliver] product knowledge, financial understanding, construction expertise, great customer service, etc.”
Knowledge of Utility Rates and Other Financial Considerations
Having a strong understanding of local utility rates and other financial considerations that impact how much your customer will save was a recurring theme among the solar contractors we spoke to on the SPW Top 500 List. Bernard Froidcoeur, owner of GreenForm-Austin, summed this up by encouraging contractors to “Understand local incentives and solar rate structures from utilities.”
Bill savings are typically a driving motivator for prospective solar customers, yet net metering and utility rate structures can be confusing. Similarly, federal, state, and local incentives that will impact the cost of their system are important information for customers to understand. You can establish your credibility by being the expert who walks them through these elements. (Our Solar Finance 101 series provides a helpful primer to bring new staff up to speed or to teach your customers.)
Using software like Aurora that supports financial analysis and includes an extensive utility rate and incentive database can help with ensuring accuracy. However, contractors still need to keep close watch on utility policies and rates to stay abreast of changes (like new net metering structures or California’s time of use rate changes).
Design and Installation Expertise
The quality of the solar designs installers offer was another key theme highlighted by companies on the Top 500 List. Peter Hughes, Owner and Business Director of Sunwatt Solar, a company that designs and installs solar systems in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, encouraged contractors to “Always start each opportunity with an accurate TSRF. It will save you time and help to narrow your focus on the most promising deals.”
Kyle Frazier, Director of Sales at Freedom Solar Power, a Texas-based commercial solar company, said “We believe that the only path to long-term success is to deliver the highest quality product and experience to every customer so that they are happy enough to refer us to their friends and neighbors and co-workers. That means under-promising during the sales process and over-delivering on the project by doing all of the work in-house and doing the job right the first time.”
“We believe that the only path to long-term success is to deliver the highest quality product and experience to every customer so that they are happy enough to refer us to their friends and neighbors and co-workers." - Kyle Frazier, Freedom Solar Power
Jeff Parr, President and Owner of Solar Technologies–which has installed over 75,000 solar power systems across California’s Bay Area–said “Once you have new business, you have to make sure you are following through on the expectations set and that your team has the experience to manage design and engineering, interconnections, installations, job-site safety, and system maintenance. Your reputation precedes you through social media and any deficiencies will be called out by customers and jeopardize future growth and success.”
Baker Home Energy, another company on the list, offered similar advice when we spoke with them earlier this year about how they get 60% of their business from referrals.
"Your reputation precedes you through social media and any deficiencies will be called out by customers and jeopardize future growth and success.” - Jeff Parr, President and Owner of Solar Technologies
Another requirement for solar contractor success highlighted by Aurora customers on the Top 500 Contractors list was the ability to adapt. Given the frequent policy changes and macroeconomic shifts that contribute to the so-called “solar coaster,” solar companies need to be flexible and stay on top of new approaches to succeed under different market conditions.
“Adaptability is key. The solar industry evolves more frequently than most. Being able to stay current on technology, codes, and methods is a requirement for success,” said Bruce Orozco, Production Engineer at Solar Source, a residential and commercial installer serving Florida’s Tampa Bay area.
Similarly, Brett Emes, Owner of SEM Power, LLC, a Florida-based solar installation company and EPC, advised solar contractors to “Differentiate yourself from your competition by constantly innovating and finding more cost-effective methods to implement solar for your customers. As soon as your competition starts copying you, innovate again to gain market advantage over your competition.”
Larry Beiler, Estimating Manager at Paradise Energy Solutions–a Pennsylvania-based solar contractor serving Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Ohio, and Virginia–echoed this sentiment.
“Be adaptable. The solar industry is constantly changing with new and improved products, incentive adjustments, and new markets. Software is one area of many that has changed dramatically in the last five years.”
Software solutions, including remote solar design tools like Aurora, are one way solar companies are adapting to work more efficiently under tighter profit margins. Solarponics, another Aurora customer on the Top 500 List, was able to cut their site visits by 90% and save approximately $500 per lead by switching to Aurora for remote assessment and design.
The final theme that emerged from many of the solar contractors we spoke with was the importance of differentiating your company based on the value your services provide–not necessarily having the cheapest product.
Jeff Parr, explained that “At Solar Technologies we try to focus on people, products, and price. All of these have to be aligned in order to deliver compelling value to home and business owners so you can win new business.”
Kyle Frazier of Freedom Solar Power said “Our advice for other solar companies is to focus on sustainable, profitable, controlled growth that is focused on your customers, rather than chasing higher-volume but lower-quality sales channels.”
Likewise, Graham Alexander, Senior Residential Energy Specialist at Southern Energy Management–a certified B-Corporation serving North Carolina–emphasized, “Don't fight to be the lowest price solution with the lowest price products. Maintain your value and allow your clients to be your best marketing resource.”
Parr also advised companies to “Take it slow, plot a strategic path forward, manage your cash, and walk away from low-margin business. You will not get rich quick in this business but if you focus on providing your customers with a high quality offering at a fair price, seek out great employees to help you on your journey, manage your business to ensure viability and commit to this industry long-term you will end up with a rewarding enterprise that is helping customers save and improving the environment for all.”
Congratulations to the companies that made Solar Power World’s Top 500 List! We were thrilled to see so many Aurora users represented on the list, and appreciate those customers taking the time to share the strategies that play a role in their success. Are there other strategies you’ve found to be important to your success in the solar contracting industry? Let us know in the comments below!
P.S. If you enjoyed this article about strategies for success, you may be interested in some of our related articles, including our interview with Pamela Cargill on how solar companies can operate more efficiently, and our discussion of solar sales mistakes to avoid from Nancy Reynolds at Clean Energy Design, LLC.