If our messaging wasn't clear up until this point, the purpose of Solar Tools USA is to provide tools for the solar industry to make the life of a solar installer easier. It seems like all the other trades have specific industry tools and I think the solar industry should too. So I’m pounding the ground inventing solar tools to tackle areas that bring you headaches. Repurposing tools that already exist but perhaps you’ve never considered could work in the solar trade. And forming relationships and resourcing other solar tools that already exist and maybe you’ve never heard of. In the end, my goal is to provide you, the solar installer, one place you can go to find everything you need. Our job is nowhere near done, but I think we are making progress.
Though I do think that I can make a difference in the daily lives of a solar installer, bringing about tools to make you and your crew, safer, more efficient, or even a little more stylish; I also believe no matter how many tools are added, there is one tool that you should continually be tapping into and that is your knowledge. In my opinion, the best way to gain knowledge is to continually keep up with what is happening within the industry.
Over the years I have met so many self-proclaimed "Solar Experts" that have become so good at what they do that they stopped trying to learn more. They become so confident in their abilities that they quickly lose touch with the latest and greatest the industry has to offer. This is one of the reasons, I believe, you see so many young solar companies mowing down their older more established competition.
Consider this crazy thing called common core math. I was raised in the day and age of 1+1=2 the end. But the students of today are learning a new method, that to me seems like a total waste of time to get to the same answer. I see filling my head with this knowledge as pointless. However . . . I can say that as a second grader there was no way I was multiplying two-digit numbers in my head and my son can do it in seconds. Does my way still work? Of course it does and it always will. Someday, however, I’ll be solving an equation working away on carrying that 1, and the future workforce will be sitting there staring at me like seriously what’s taking you so long.
Do you see what I am getting at here? The root of the problem is all too often the assumption is made that if the knowledge you have, worked for you today, then it should work for you again tomorrow. For argument's sake, your knowledge still works, but maybe not as well or as efficiently as it did yesterday.
The solar industry is still considered a "young industry" meaning there is so much to still be discovered about it, improved upon, and created to support it. I don't think it would be an underestimate to say it is changing daily. As technology continues to advance new products, services, designs, and tools are constantly making their way to market. And just like we've seen with the evolution of something like the telephone, these advances quickly shift future trends. The only way you're going to stay relevant is to know what is happening in the industry around you in the current moment.
So I ask you, where is your current solar trend information coming from?
I think some of you would say, it’s whatever I happen across while perusing my social media late at night. Or one of those FaceBook groups where people banter back and forth about how their methods are the best and everyone else is dumb. (Don’t get me started on those drama fests.)
But I think the majority of you would say that the information you rely on as the most creditable, is that from your distribution networks. I would absolutely agree your distributors are a great resource, although in the same breath I would wave caution to the wind on how unbiased their recommendations might be.
Distributors are absolutely going to wave all the newest products around for you to ogle over, but they are also bound to specific manufacturers and have restrictions on product availability or may simply be sharing their personal opinion and not the facts.
Sorry to all my distributor buddy's but we all know it is true...LOL!!!!
Ultimately, they are just selling you what they have to sell. Don't get me wrong, our distributors are the lifeblood of our businesses, and most of the ones I know, truly do care about your business success as they are not successful unless you are. In the end, the truth is, we are all trying to run profitable businesses and distribution channels are no different!
This leads me to my suggestion on other avenues to consider, which I have found beneficial.
Based on my own experience, I have found the BEST nuggets of information that have propelled my career in the solar industry have come from one of two places. Fortunately for you, I'm not afraid to share my secret.
#1 Solar Trade Conventions
Okay, okay before you roll your eyes and start telling me about how every convention you've ever gone to was filled with a bunch of nonsense booths with people trying to sell you stuff you don't need, hours of walking around in circles, and more money spent on getting you there than your company made while you were gone, I completely hear you!
And in general, I would TOTALLY agree! But strangely, I find myself feeling less jaded about one particular convention; SPI (Solar Power International). Yes, it isn't cheap, yes there is A LOT of walking and yes there is a spattering of booths not worth your time. But overall, there has not been one time that I have bitten the bullet and made the commitment to attend, that I left regretting my decision.
Where else are you going to get all the big hitters, along with all the newcomers, together under one roof? There is no better place to learn about new products coming out, what the future trends of the industry will be and in my opinion, the most important aspect, building relationships with those that can truly help grow your business.
My advice, if you do decide to give it a whirl, plan your trip appropriately. Meaning, do not just show up on the first day with no game plan prior. Review who the vendors are, make a list of your top "must visit" booths, and certainly make appointments with anyone you know you specifically want to talk to.
And hey, in our current times maybe you'll be able to participate virtually from the comfort of your living room. (Though I will say, I will miss the after-hours "networking" events.)
#2 Solar Trade Publications
SPI (Solar Power International) or a similar convention is a phenomenal way to reboot your knowledge base once a year. But if you relied solely on this method, I think you'd find by the time the next year rolled around the trends would have already changed tenfold. So to stay in the know on a more consistent basis, I turn to good old fashion trade publications. I know gasp, that is so 80's right? But in all seriousness, I find the information I glean from these resources to be unbiased education on the industry trends presented in a way that is digestible and specific to your business.
I attended a seminar not too long ago and one of the speakers was discussing his views on what has made him the successful businessman that he is today. He discussed 4 key areas he focuses on each day, one of these being renewing his mind, and the most common way he does this is by reading at least one piece of relevant information to his industry that can better his knowledge base and thus improves his business skills.
I thought huh? Interesting concept. If I'm being honest, I hate reading. I've never been good at it, but then I also thought he's not asking me to read an entire novel in a weekend. The challenge is simply to learn one new thing each day. If I can easily blow an hour scrolling through FaceBook at 10 pm, I can certainly take 15-minutes to read one little nugget of information and the latter is certainly going to renew my mind a heck of a lot better than the brain cells I probably killed the hour prior scrolling through social media. Truthfully, this concept works! I can't tell you how many small little gems of information I have unearthed in a 15 minute power read. Information that has allowed me to break past a barrier I was having in my own business, or allow me to propel way past the competition.
There isn't one publication that I peruse that I can't access for free, including those that I get in their physical form the old fashion way (those I like to display strategically in my office so that others feel I'm a real scholar). And each one always seems to have a little gem of information from a legitimate solar industry expert.
If you’ve already discovered this serious gold mind of a tool; then hats off to you! I hope that you are taking the time to legitimately read them.
Want some suggestions on publications I have in my personal reading rotation? I’ve got ya, they are listed below.
What it all comes down to is this: Whatever you do, no matter your business model, each and every one of us should always be striving to be better than we currently are. Whether you think my suggestions on ways to continue to improve your knowledge are awesome or lame doesn’t really matter. I’m simply just sharing what has proven successful for me and I hope it provides some ideas for you.
(If anything, at least you got your 15 min read in for the day!)
Here is a list of Solar Industry Publications that I suggest:
6. PV Magazine