Getting started as a Christmas light installer is most certainly fun and rewarding. It's one of the most enjoyable repeatable services you can offer to a client, and customer relationships are overwhelmingly positive. Who doesn't love the person installing holiday joy on their home? However, just because there is a lot of fun to be had in the business, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take the time to prepare for this new endeavour!
Below are 8 tips that will provide some assistance, whether you're just dipping your toes into the industry, or you've been here for a while. While this is most certainly not an exhaustive list of everything you'll need to get started, it should get your brain thinking about some of the less-contemplated sides of the business!
1. Find a reputable supplier
When searching for a supplier you want to seek one that has the following qualitiies:
- High quality product line-up
- Reachable and responsive customer service
- Realistic shipping timelines to your location
- Favourable reviews online
It can be tempting to order direct from sites like Amazon or Alibaba, but the reality is you never have the assurance that the product will be the same from order to order. And please, please, avoid the temptation to roll up to your neighbourhood big box store to stock up on lights for the season ahead.
Why do we advise against this? Two reasons - quality, and longevity.
In the world of Christmas light suppliers, there can be a wild range of quality. Big box stores may have lights in the same packages every year, but there's no guarantee they were actually made the same from one production year to the next. There is also a vast difference in the quality of LEDs used by different manufacturers. Lower quality warm white LEDs will yellow quickly, or cool white tones will become blue.
Furthermore, the longevity of lower-grade products may leave you (and your clients) disappointed. Lower quality components like bulbs and resistors can degrade quickly, meaning you need to replace product more often for your clients. And if you can't be guaranteed by your supplier that product is going to be more or less the same from year to year, your clients may be disappointed by a mis-matched installation.
Do your research when picking a supplier (don't just trust their website or social media either - search on Reddit or Google for alternative sources). Don't hesitate to reach out to suppliers to ask questions and start a relationship. If you get a good feeling from your first few interactions with the supplier, that's usually a good sign!
2. Start decorating!
There's no better way to get experience than to... get experience. Once you've found a supplier, or perhaps a few to experiment with, start with your own home, or perhaps a friend or family members.
This step is particularly important for getting used to working with customizable Christmas lights, and for experimenting with some of the finer creative details like decorating trees and shrubs. Having a variety of "test sites" will help to familiarize you with the potential issues you may come across at new jobs, like finding the optimal place to connect to power or choosing the right clip for the right surface.
3. Find a partner
While Christmas light installation may seem like the type of job you can get started on on your own, it's always wise to have a partner. The biggest advantage here is safety. Whether they're truly your partner in the business or your first employee, having an extra pair of hands while installing is essential for both efficiency and for keeping an eye out for one another.
4. Get comfortable with quoting. Mistakes = learning opportunities!
Quoting can be one of the more complicated facets of the job, in terms of getting familiar with the process. It can take some time to get used to it, but this is another thing you can practice while you practice installing on your own home.
A popular method is to charge by the foot, as the most common wire spacing for commercial-grade product is 12 inches. In terms of supplies, this means that for every foot you will in theory have: 1 ft of wire, 1 bulb, and 1 clip. You'll also want to factor in how much time it takes to install that foot of wire, keeping in mind that this will change depending on the height and pitch of the roofline. For example, a single-storey rancher with a roofline that's accessible from a step-ladder might only take you 1 minute per foot, but a 3-storey home with multiple pitches and steep rooflines may be closer to 6 minutes per foot!
Decorating trees in a trunk and branch wrap style can be a whole other beast, and we recommend charging by the string rather than by the foot. To help calculate how many strings you might need for a specific project, we recommend checking out the following blog post: How Many Lights to Put on Your Outdoor Tree.
As with most aspects of stepping into an industry that's new to you, you're likely to make mistakes and over and under quote from time to time. Use each experience as a lesson and adjust your quoting system accordingly.
5. Launch a website
It's hard to quantify how powerful having a simple website can be for your business. Even as a supplier, when we have new installers apply for a discount, we are looking for legitimate evidence that the business exists and one of the main ones to verify that is to review the company website. Website hosts like Wix and Squarespace make it immensely easy for even the technologically-challenged to set up an online website.
If you're not prepared to take on this more tech-savvy side of running your business, it is well worth investing in someone to develop an eye-catching website that is easy for potential customers to navigate. If you're shy of getting started with a website, you can create a Facebook or Instagram page as a place to promote your services and reach your audience, and work your way toward a proper website as your company grows.
6. Create your own "stock" photo album
A picture can say a thousand words, and it will most certainly help you to sell your clients on your services. Remember when we suggested installing lights on your own home first? Well another great reason to do this is to get your first few photos of installations under your belt for advertising purposes.
Another opportunity to set yourself apart is by having professional photos taken of your installations. Christmas lights are tricky to shoot, and modern smart phone camera are notoriously inadequate at night-time shots. It will most certainly be worth investing in a photographer who knows what they're doing!
Lastly, check with your supplier to see if they can provide photos. It's in their best interest for you to make sales, because it comes back to them, so they should be able to help you out with a few photos to get your album started! Just remember to give them credit where credit is due.
7. Study your desired clientele's neighbourhood
It goes without saying that this type of service is more geared toward those living in more affluent neighbourhoods. Pick a day to visit the areas you'd be targeting with your services and study the architecture. Are there lots of cedar shake roofs? French-style red tiles? Brown gutters? One of the reasons why professional installation can be so appealing is that the socket wire comes in a variety of colours, meaning you can choose the best one to blend into the roofline. You'll want to get a general understanding of the architecture in your target areas so that you can have a supply of socket wire that matches!
Furthermore, try to get a sense of the neighbourhood's general style during the holidays. Warm white lights have been overwhelmingly popular over the last decade, but neighbours also tend to influence one another. You may find pockets where bright pops of colour are trending.
8. Dot your i's and cross your t's
Well, that's an awfully vague instruction, isn't it? What we mean here is, make sure you're doing everything above board. You'll want to make sure that your business and your employees are insured as per your province or state's requirements. Given that you'll be installing electrical product, you'll also want to make sure you don't need proper certification in your state or county. Most holiday lighting products are rated for seasonal use, meaning you don't need to be an electrician to install it, but there are some exceptions. The last thing you want as a new business is to run into legal issues!
And there you have it! Though this is most certainly not a comprehensive list of what you'll need to do to get started as a Christmas light installer, hopefully it helped you to start making plans for your business endeavour. If you have any burning questions about getting started in the industry, don't hesitate to reach out to us. We offer free online consultations where we can offer you some insight into getting started, and answer any questions you may have. There will never be any sales pressure from us - just a willingness to share our successes and inform yours!