How to start up an aerial installing business

Aerial installers install, upgrade and repair domestic and commercial aerial systems, frequently working at height in all weathers. This guide covers the key issues for starting and running your own aerial installing business.

Research your target market

When you plan your aerial installation business it's important to make an estimate of how much demand there will be. It's also important to find out as much as possible about the competition. Doing some market research will help you with this.

Customers

Think about how many people and organisations are likely to use your services.

Private domestic work

Much of the work you do will probably be for private householders - people wanting to upgrade their television system, improve their reception, switch to a new satellite service and so on.

Think about how densely populated your working region is. Much of your work is likely to be concentrated within the most densely populated areas, so it may be worth focusing your advertising and marketing efforts on them.

Look at the type of housing in the area. Is it:

  • mainly rented or mainly owner-occupied
  • mostly individual houses or mostly flats and apartment blocks
  • well kept or run-down

Try to find out about the types of people living in a particular area - are they mainly families, single people, students, immigrant workers, older people?

Look out for areas where installing equipment like satellite dishes could be problematic - these include conservation areas, national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and listed buildings. It could be worth finding out details of local planning requirements in areas like these.

Try to match the range of products and services that you offer to the needs and wants of local people. Think about whether or not you're prepared to travel to other areas to do work.

Work for landlords

In rented accommodation, it's often the landlord who's responsible for things like aerial installation and repairs. Landlords of houses in multiple occupation (HiMOs) may require services like multipoint network installation, while owners of flats and apartment blocks may require master antenna television (MATV) and satellite (SMATV) systems that use a single aerial or dish to feed all the properties in a building through a network.

Installation work for other businesses and organisations

Think about other types of property in the area where your services might be required. Pubs and clubs, leisure businesses, schools and offices are all potential customers.

Contract and sub-contract work

Try approaching other businesses that may need your services regularly. You could, for example, leave your details with building contractors and property developers, who may regularly need aerial services. Housing associations may also be potential clients.

It may be possible to get regular work from other installers on a sub-contract basis. You might also be able to become an approved installer and repairer for insurance companies.

Large organisations who invite firms to tender for contract work may be reluctant to use a newly established business. Also, a young business may have difficulty in funding a large contract, as many things may have to be paid for well before any payment is received. But it may be worth finding out who is responsible for putting work out to tender in large organisations such as housing associations and big construction firms. Try to find out how the tender process works and what you would have to do if you wanted to tender for a contract.

Finding out about how much competition there is

Once you've decided who your customers might be, you need to find out how well they're already served.

How many other businesses in the area offer the same services that you intend to? A look through the relevant classifications on Yell.com (classifications 'Aerial services & supplies' and 'Satellite dish installers') and other online directories will help to establish this. You could also look at local print directories.

Look at some of your competitors' advertisements and websites:

  • what services do they offer
  • do they advertise any special features, for example '25 years experience', 'Sky approved' and so on
  • do they belong to any trade associations, for example the Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI)
  • what sort of impression does their advertisement give you (for example, does the firm come across as small and friendly, large and efficient, good value and so on)

Bear in mind that, when it comes to Sky satellite installations, you'll face competition from Sky's own network of installers. These focus on 'standard' domestic installations.

Remember that, unfortunately, you may also face competition from 'cowboys' and 'moonlighters' who work for cash but don't advertise anywhere. These often quote very low prices but usually fail to match the quality of professional firms. Many have no insurance and some are blatantly dishonest.

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Your work rate

As part of your business planning, give some thought to the hours you expect to work and the amount of work that you can realistically hope to get done in a typical working day.

Your working hours

Assuming that you get a fairly steady stream of installation and other work, the amount you can earn depends partly on the number of days you work and the length of your working day.

You may decide to stick to normal business hours, for example 8.30 am until 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and perhaps Saturdays too. Or you may decide to work longer hours - perhaps an earlier start. Remember that bad weather can disrupt your work schedules - it's difficult and often dangerous to do installation work at height when it's windy and wet. Perhaps you're prepared to work longer hours when the weather is fair and take some time off during quieter periods.

Work rate

You should have a good idea of how long certain types of jobs will take you and how many you can do in a typical day. Even so, it's a good idea to build some contingency time into your work schedules and planning. No two installation jobs are exactly the same, and it's not unusual for something unforeseen to crop up and cause complications. Sometimes you'll turn up at a job only to find that the there are lots of things that need to be sorted, all of which take time - heavy furniture may need to be moved, access may be difficult or restricted, the dish position may be higher than normal, cable runs may be very long and so on.

If you're going to employ any staff bear in mind that although you may well be motivated to work hard and put in long days, your employees may not be prepared to match your work rate. You'll aim always to get the best out of them, but be realistic in your expectations.

It's very important when you quote for a job that you can make a realistic estimate of how long it will take. It's no good basing your quote on two hours work if it ends up taking you six!

Non-productive time

Unfortunately, not all of every working day will be spent earning money. Here are a few examples of reasons why you may sometimes find yourself working hard but earning nothing:

  • travelling to and from jobs
  • visiting sites to cost new work, give quotes and do surveys (if you make no charge for these services)
  • finishing off jobs that take you longer than you had thought (possibly due to unforeseen problems)
  • getting call-backs after an installation to rectify problems or give free support

Sometimes you may find that you're unable to work at all, because:

  • the weather is too bad to work outside and/or at height
  • you arrive at a job but the customer isn't there
  • you're ill

Take all of these factors into account when you're estimating the maximum number of productive hours that you can work each month. Be realistic! Remember that they can apply to your employees as well as to you. When you plan your working schedules, try to minimise the amount of time that will be wasted - for example by making sure that all the day's jobs are located as close to each other as possible. Be sure that you've always got everything you need with you for a job before you start.

Advertising and marketing

It's important to let your potential customers know who you are, where you are and what you can do for them. Effective advertising and marketing can help to do this.

Online marketing

A good business website is essential so that customers can find your services online. Think about getting listed in online directories - perhaps on Yell.com, on 'contact an expert' directories run by many trade associations, or an independent network like INDi. If you're an authorised Sky Local Expert then your contact details can be listed in the searchable database on the Sky Local Expert website.

Social media can be an effective way of marketing your business and making contact with customers. Think too about using forums and blogs (although be aware that some forum websites ban blatant advertising in forum posts). You could consider trying to obtain work through job-referral websites like Mybuilder.com and Rated People.

Of course you can pay to advertise online, but this can get expensive so you'll need to be sure that this type of expenditure will pay for itself in additional sales.

Other ways of advertising

Think about other ways of promoting your business. Perhaps you could:

  • distribute a paper flyer - or perhaps a sticker with your business name and contact details on it - as part of a mailshot or door-to-door
  • advertise in your local paper. Some run a regular 'contact the experts' advertising feature.
  • advertise in local print directories
  • ask an independent television retailer if you can advertise your services through their outlet. They might be prepared to display your advertising material, flyers or business cards, and perhaps recommend your business to their customers
  • sponsor a local sports club or event

Try to tell people as many of the good things about your business as possible in all your advertisements, particularly things that distinguish your business from its competitors. These might include trade association membership or formal qualifications.

Remember that your vehicle can be a very effective means of advertising if you have it sign-written and keep it clean and presentable.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth recommendations are very valuable to your business. Horror stories about 'cowboy' installers who bodge jobs and swindle their customers aren't uncommon. Even some professional installers get a bad reputation for lateness, unreliability, poor service and shoddy workmanship, and people will want to be sure you're not one of them. You'll have to earn your reputation through hard work and good service, but even small things like politeness and considerateness can pay big dividends. Make sure that any staff you employ are good ambassadors for your business too. You want to be sure that if a neighbour of a property where you were working approached one of your staff with a sales enquiry they would be dealt with politely and helpfully.

Decide which services to offer

It's likely that you already have some training and experience in a particular type or types of aerial installation, so you'll probably have a good idea of the range of services that your business will offer. Depending on your skills and equipment, these might include:

  • installing terrestrial television aerials
  • installing Sky satellite systems, particularly non-standard installations (difficult access, high location and so on), and installations in commercial premises like pubs
  • installing non-Sky satellite systems for customers who want access to Freesat and European channels
  • installing motorised satellite dishes
  • installing terrestrial Freeview systems
  • installing broadband devices such as Sky's NowTV box, Amazon's Fire TV box, Apple TV, Google's Chromecast and so on
  • installing radio aerials, including digital audio broadcasting (DAB) and FM systems
  • repairing damaged aerials and dishes, including storm damage
  • upgrading systems
  • moving and realigning aerials and dishes, and carrying out concealed installations
  • improving television or radio reception
  • installing extra television/video points throughout a building and designing domestic multipoint networks
  • installing multipoint networks in commercial premises like hotels
  • installing master antenna television (MATV) and satellite (SMATV) systems in buildings like blocks of flats and office blocks
  • doing specialist aerial and antenna work - for example installing temporary outside broadcast equipment for television and radio companies
  • wall-mounting televisions
  • installing bespoke commercial television systems

Some of the work you do might be on new-build projects like housing developments, but a great deal of it will probably be on existing buildings. Many of these will already have some sort of aerial or dish.

If you want to offer subsidised Sky satellite package deals you'll need to become a Sky Local Expert (sometimes referred to as an Authorised Sky Agent). Installers who want to install Sky as SMATV systems for buildings like apartment blocks can become approved Sky Homes Installers of TV systems in multi-dwelling units.

Additional services

You might also decide to offer certain other services, like:

  • data cabling
  • home cinema and projector installation
  • CCTV installation

You'll usually be supplying equipment for the installations you do anyway, but you might also decide to sell things like satellite dishes, satellite receivers and other equipment to retail customers who want to do the installation themselves. Other customers might purchase their own equipment elsewhere but pay you to install it and set it up for them.

Added value services

The aerial services industry is very competitive and you might decide to offer certain 'added value' services to distinguish your business from its competitors. These could include, for example:

  • free advice and after-sales support
  • no call-out or service charges
  • free estimates and quotations
  • quick job turnaround - perhaps including same day or next day service for some types of job
  • membership of a recognised trade association, such as the Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI)
  • a freephone telephone number
  • a guarantee on all work

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