Ask Al: Advice on time management, recruiting, marketing plans and communication
Columnist Al Levi answers your questions about business management.
I’ve been asked questions during my seminars, teleseminars, webinars, free 30-minute consultations and one-on-one client consultations. I wanted to share some of these with you in the hope that my answers will help you and your business be more productive and generate more revenue to reap the rewards of success.
Question No. 1: Time management
“I’ve been trying to be home with family but I need focus on getting the guys out to the job. Then, I need go to the jobsites every day to check on how they’re doing. I try, but sometimes fail, to make one day a week my office day. Still, after dinner most nights, I’m up late at night creating estimates and doing more billing.
“I’ve also been trying to get systems in place by having the guys write down things such as how to do XYZ, but they never get around to doing it. I do have some employee policies in writing and I have a basic organizational chart.
“It’s flat-out exhausting!”
It’s tough to be in so many places at the same time!
Here’s the bad news: There are no more hours in a day, a week, a month or a year coming anytime soon. And it is unlikely that you will have fully functioning clones available either.
The good news is by learning how to delegate and outsource the right way, you can maximize your effectiveness right now.
Don’t get me wrong. I was a contractor once and I know how tough it can be when you’re so actively called upon to be working on the business. But unless you do as I did and set aside a portion of each week to work on your business, nothing is going to change in a positive way for you, your staff or your customers.
You need documented systems to run a business and leverage yourself.
Question No. 2: Recruiting and training service techs
“I’m only looking for technicians with at least five years of experience.
“I’ve used hiring ads on job websites, help-wanted sections of newspapers and classified-ad-type websites. Less than half the applicants who reply to the ad show up for the first interview appointment. I feel that the distance from where they live to my shop may be a deterrent but I don’t believe it’s the whole story.”
You need to look at recruiting as marketing. The only difference is that you are marketing to a different audience. To that end, you need to better differentiate your company in your recruiting ads. Your company is not like all the rest because you are offering a career, not a job.
Here’s the catch: You need to make this promise a reality.
Face it! You’re looking at a small pool of talent if you are unwilling or unable to bring in willing people and give them the skills they need to succeed at your company.
Yes, you can do the “dollar-hopping” game, which is offering a higher wage than your competition. But if that’s all you’re offering, it’s not a reason to stay at your company. And those you brought on board this way are likely to jump ship when they go dollar-hopping again.
End the madness and commit to a never-ending program of recruiting, hiring, orienting, training and retaining. A good working environment will keep your employees on the job with you.
Question No. 3: Not having a plan
“Before 2008, there was so much work in residential new construction, I didn’t know how the guys would get all the work done. Plus, the workload and the lack of profit mixed with the craziness of managing it all darn near killed me.
“I don’t want to rely on residential new construction work anymore. What I want is to transition my business to do primarily residential service and repair work for the homeowner and get enough trucks rolling every day to make money. But I fear the craziness will return if I don’t have a plan in place this time.”
I’ve been in your shoes and know it’s hard to get the profit you need when you’re not working for the end user, either residentially or commercially. When you work as the middle man, it’s going to be tough and you already know that.
Whether you’re doing new construction or service and repair, you must have a plan in place. You have to be willing to put the time, energy and money into making that plan come to fruition.
A good place to put that time, energy and money is in creating a written marketing plan that includes:
A marketing budget;
Market drivers (focusing on the three main ways to go to market); and
A marketing calendar.
The trick to marketing is getting the right call from the right customer at the right time.
As to having a plan, simply start by writing out your Top Five No. 1 projects or habits. This can move your company where you want it to go. A good example of a No. 1 item is the marketing plan I talked about above.
Question No. 4: Communication
“I’m going to be 50 in a couple of months and I know that my company’s dependency on selling oil and propane sales can’t go on forever.
“No matter how many times I repeat myself, it just doesn’t get done or it gets done incorrectly. I know my team is wasting a lot of time running around in circles in what is clearly an unproductive way.
“I’m a plumber who’s not the greatest manager.
“I want the business to run more on its own than it does today so I can spend more time with my kids while they’re still young.”
Coming from a family business that was strictly a fuel oil company, we recognized we had to diversify to survive and thrive.
And you are right to recognize that probably in the near future, the oil and propane sales will fall away. Once they’re gone and you haven’t diversified, it may be too late to survive.
That’s why you need your techs optimizing each call. The communication skills you’ll need start with getting employees to see the light. Find every article you can with third-party evidence of this trend. Find all the governmental and trade association evidence you can and then work tirelessly to get your staff to see what’s coming before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, this diversification and reinvention will take more of your time and might pull you away from your family. I know how difficult this can be but if you don’t invest in remaking the company the way it must be done, the future will affect them. And if you work smarter on the right things, you might actually work less and have the time to be with your family in the very near future.