Need advice for turning a negative service call into a positive referral? Having trouble drumming up new business? With more than 30 years in the electrical service industry, Patrick Kennedy (AKA, Mister Sparky) is ready to help. Send your service-related questions to, and each month he'll answer them to help you set a course for business success.

We've been in business more than 15 years in mostly the commercial field. We're now attempting to enter the residential field with a stronger force. We've advertised in all the local newspapers with a fair response. Do you have any ideas or suggestions for making a more prominent marketing campaign?

Allow me to start by welcoming you to the residential service field. There's an unlimited amount of potential in this industry just waiting to be tapped by those business owners who want to go for it.

That being said, I don't truly think you're in the service field until you're in the yellow pages. When a homeowner needs service, they inevitably turn to the yellow pages, not the newspaper. To get results here, you'll need the right ad. Don't let your yellow pages sales rep design it for you, but rather craft your own that delivers benefits to the consumer.

You also have several opportunities around your community to market your services. You can team up with other plumbing or HVAC contractors in your market that also do residential service. Have them recommend you to homeowners, and you can return the favor when you're on calls. You can even share the cost of a marketing piece that goes out to their client base.

If that's not enough to get you started, you can also make the most of the service opportunities you do have. Every time one of your technicians is on a service call, have them canvas the neighboring houses. Drop a door hanger on each of the houses on that street with a special “while we're in the neighborhood” offer.

Do whatever you can to build your service base. Once your marketing gets someone to call you the first time, your mission is to get them to call you again and again. That's the formula for profits in the residential service industry.

Through a random drug test, I recently found that one of my best technicians uses drugs. I have a zero tolerance policy, but this particular tech is the best I've had in a long time — he's always on time, never had a complaint from a customer, and he knows his stuff. What should I do? Do I give him another chance or tell him to pack his things?

This is always a difficult situation, and what makes it worse is that this guy is your top producer. I hope that you've taken action by this time because this isn't the type of scenario you want to leave unresolved. However, as I see it, you have two options.

The first is to uphold your policy. If you have a zero tolerance policy, then you must have a zero tolerance policy. I have one in place in my company, and I've been in your situation several times. In every instance, I've let the individual go. I absolutely hated doing it, but it has made our company stronger. If you don't enforce your policy, what message does that send to the rest of your team? They'll see that you don't do what you say and that you don't enforce your policies. What's worse, this technician will think he's receiving preferential treatment.

Your second option is to amend your policy, but this may be even more damaging. Other policies I've heard of allow an employee who is caught using drugs to keep his job if he agrees to attend mandatory drug classes and passes recurring random drug tests for a given period of time. However, the rest of your team is respecting your policies. What message will you send if you change your policy now for this guy? That's not to mention the impression your clients will get if you had been publicizing a drug-free workplace (and you should.)

Overall, as much as it hurts to do it, I would say let this individual go and uphold your policies. You'll only improve your team's morale and work environment, and you'll eventually attract another superstar who will remain drug free.

Meet Mister Sparky

Business advice is pretty easy to find — you don't have to channel surf very long at 2 a.m. to come across a get-rich quick infomercial from a self-proclaimed “business guru.” Good business advice, on the other hand, is a little harder to come by. After more than three decades in the electrical service industry, Patrick Kennedy has the experience and reputation necessary to provide answers you can trust, but in most cases you'd either have to travel to the offices of Mister Sparky, Inc., his $7 million-a-year service contracting business in Atlanta, or catch him on the road at an Electricians' Success International seminar to ask for advice. Luckily for you, he'll be answering them here once a month. He didn't build the largest electrical service contracting company in the country by mistake, so you can be sure that Kennedy has a career's worth of helpful suggestions — you just have to ask the right questions.

Disclaimer: EC&M can't guarantee that reading Ask Mister Sparky will bring you the same success Patrick Kennedy has enjoyed, but we're pretty sure his advice is better than anything you might learn from late-night infomercials.