For RainWise – a program designed to help property owners physically design and install rain gardens and cisterns – going virtual has had its challenges, but also unique opportunities.
The RainWise program, a partnership between King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), provides rebates for home and property owners to install rain gardens and cisterns to help manage the rain that falls on their roof and property. These installations add attractive landscaping, can provide water for summer irrigation, and can help prevent or reduce flooding. Property owners hire professionals from a pool of contractors who have been through a RainWise orientation.
RainWise normally hosts events where people can learn about the program and meet contractors in-person. These events are a great way for homeowners to get their technical questions answered by experts and screen some contractors they may want to work with. It is also a great way for contractors to meet potential clients and gain new business.
Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic and social-distancing, in-person events are not possible. But in addition, Washington State’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order restricted some contractors in their activities, like those in the RainWise program. This made it an even more uncertain time for them as they were not able to complete projects.
It became a priority for the RainWise team to create an event for individuals to meet our contractors and start planning their projects. That way, once things open back up and landscape work could continue, our homeowners and contractors could have some projects lined up.
The solution the team came up with was to host a virtual meeting with Zoom. We gave a brief presentation about the program and taught people what to think about when choosing a contractor. Then each contractor provided a quick pitch about themselves before everyone headed into virtual “breakout rooms” where people met in smaller groups to have separate conversations.
In our breakout rooms, one contractor was placed into a room with about four potential clients to answer more technical questions homeowners may have had. After ten minutes, contractors were “moved” to a different room for the next round. That was repeated like a virtual speed dating game. Each contractor got an opportunity to “get in front of” all potential clients and hopefully gain some new business.
By hosting two Zoom sessions, we were able to have six contractors and 22 prospective customers join us and connect. The feedback we received from both attendees and contractors was that the event was a hit with potential to grow.
The RainWise team is currently looking into hosting language-specific virtual contractor meet-ups to better serve multicultural contractors and community members.
RainWise will be hosting at least two more contractor meet ups as part of the summer event series! If you are interested in making your yard and garden more sustainable, check to see if you are eligible for the RainWise program here: https://www.700milliongallons.org/rainwise/eligibility/