How you can rise above 99 percent of your competitors.

Let me describe a contractor and see if he sounds familiar.

He has big plans. He sees the potential in his business and his market. He just knows there is an opportunity to hit it big in this industry and really grow a company that stands tall among all the local competitors. He looks around his market and does not see any single company that has accomplished more than he believes he is capable of.

He smiles when he thinks about the “what could be.”

The smile turns to a frown of consternation when he thinks about the present day. There is just so much to do. There is marketing to work on. This whole Internet thing sure is a lot of work and tough to figure out.

And there is so much to do regarding truck layout and design. Where do the bins go? How big? What parts to stock? And the warehouse - don’t get him started. The list is long.

Then there are so many things to do with employees. Who should he hire? Where is he going to find them? Once he finds them, how does he train them? If he finds them and trains them, how much should he pay them, and should he include some kind of incentive program?

Next is the software. He thinks he should upgrade, but there are so many choices and he really doesn’t understand all the functionality of what he currently has. Neither does his bookkeeper, who blames the software for every accounting error.

This contractor also attends industry trade shows. There is no shortage of good ideas and he is bombarded by all kinds of business-improvement products. He sees all the new trenchless technology for both supply and drain piping, advances in water-conditioning equipment and thinks he should get serious about expanding his business with these new products.

Finally, he keeps current on all the industry trade publications and reads all the “guru” columns. Each month he gets some new information and ideas on how to make his business better. The tips on how to train better, sell more and manage more efficiently hit him like darts each month as he reads the trade magazines. The list of business improvements continues to grow.

Remember, he wants to run a great business. He would even like to have a couple different locations spread across the state, if truth be told. He knows he has to implement all of the above ideas. So what does he do?

He starts them all. In no particular order, he starts working on all of them - pay plans, marketing, truck and warehouse improvements, new product introductions, software. Of course, he doesn’t get very far.

Every day he wakes up with good intentions. But then the day starts and he tends to a customer call, troubleshoots a couple problems over the phone with a technician, runs to check on a larger job, picks up a part for that job, takes in a truck for an oil change, talks to a backslapping sales person who walks into his shop and before you know it, it’s 5:30 p.m. Time for a beer and some rest for his weary brain.

None of the projects that make a long-term difference in his business have moved forward. It is like this day after day, week after week, month after month. Busy, busy, busy!

And when he looks back on the year, the business really has not progressed. He still has the same number of technicians, the same annual revenue and the same low profits and owners’ compensation.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Do what successful contractors do

If you analyze the traits of successful contractors in our industry, they have the ability to finish what they start. They do not have a 100-item list of business-improvement initiatives in their heads that are never put into operation.

One of the critical differences between successful contractors and the vast majority of the businesses in our industry that chronically under-perform year after year is the ability to get business improvements done and successfully implemented in their companies.

Lack of implementation is so common that when I see successful implementation, I am almost startled!

Working as a business coach for Nexstar, every contractor I work with has the absolute best intentions. There are very few contractors who reach our organization who are not ambitious and willing to work. What also is common is most contractors seek out help not because they lack good ideas, but because they lack the ability to get those good ideas started.

For the vast majority of the contractors, this lack of implementation is not a question of ability, but rather a lack of organization, discipline and accountability.

If you suffer from “lack of implementationitis,” consider a simple business-planning implementation list to help you get started and stay on track. You can read all kinds of books on how to improve your business. You can hire expensive consultants to map out an implementation plan for you. Or you can just follow this simple outline and make your business better.

  • Create a written list. Create a list of business-improvement projects on a piece of paper. Remember, it is not a list if it is in your mind but not written. Write down everything, even the small projects. The point here is once you have created the list, you are not going to add anything to it. You are going to stay disciplined and focused on getting the projects implemented instead of chasing something new and shiny that catches your eye next week. You need to be organized and disciplined.

  • Rank your list. Take this list and force-rank it from most important to least important to the business. This is subjective. Some items will have short-term benefits and some will have long-term benefits. Depending on the condition of your company, short term may have more or less importance to the company. Use your best judgment.

  • Estimate project costs. Next to each item on your list, insert the dollar amount each item may cost. Some items will cost money to implement, some will not. Part of planning is to not only put first things first, but also to make sure you have the money to implement what you need.

  • Short-term projects. Look at the top items on your list you can afford to take on right now, take a deep breath and realistically think about what you can accomplish in the next three months. Don’t think further ahead than that right now. Just think about the next three months. Commit to the number of projects you will implement. Don’t be a hero and say you will do 10 things. You will end up right where you are now - frustrated and spinning your wheels.

    This is a commitment to your company. No try. No might. You will get these done. Now assign what can be termed a “drop-dead implementation date.” Write that date next to the item. Pretend if you don’t get these done, you will lose your company. They have to be that important to you. Here is what separates successful contractors from the rest: When they commit to a date, it is written in stone and not subject to change. This is where you likely have been failing short. You have not been serious about an implementation date and, as a result, projects drag on and on and on. It is time to get serious about setting and hitting deadlines.

  • Document all separate tasks. Once you have set a firm deadline for the top projects in the next three months, create a list of tasks you need to do to get each project completed. A given project may have two or three tasks, or it may have 50 tasks. Get these important to-dos documented and then assign these tasks to individuals in your company. Get a commitment when each will get done. Again, no try. No might. These are firm dates.

  • Document at the beginning of every week. Once your master list is done, you have to plan your week. You must know the most important items you can accomplish this week are the items on your list. Look at your task list each week and get to work finishing those tasks you have assigned yourself. Document them in whatever day planner you use - whether it is Outlook on your computer, a sheet of paper on the wall in front of you or in your truck. Don’t get distracted. Don’t confuse “being busy” with “being productive.” Get these items implemented as a first order of business each week.

  • Hold progress meetings. If you have assigned tasks to others in your company, set a firm weekly meeting where you review the implementation progress of each item. Hold yourself and others accountable. Don’t tolerate missed deadlines. It will only take a couple of these meetings before people realize you are serious about hitting deadlines and will be intolerant of missed deadlines from others.

  • Verify actual implementation. Inspect what you expect. Once a project is implemented - say it is a new selling system for your service technicians - you must verify that it is actually occurring in the field where it matters. Make this a part of your plan.

  • Celebrate accomplishment. Celebrate when you hit the deadline! Once a project is completed - particularly if it is a big one - celebrate. Here at Nexstar, once a big project is completed, there is often a celebration reception or lunch brought in to acknowledge the hard work. You should do the same.

    Return to the list and take the next projects and repeat the process.

    Use the format in the table above to illustrate how to set up a project-implementation plan and document your progress.

    Remember, the key difference between a highly successful company and the average company in our industry is the level of business improvements each has implemented. Get to work in 2011 and finish everything you start!

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