Archives for March 2019

What Did You Learn Last Year?

by Tom Grandy

Most of us have heard, “Do you have thirty years’ experience or one year of experience repeated thirty times?”  The other one we have heard is, “The definition of insanity is ‘Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results!'”  The point is the same in either case.  Are we learning and changing?

As the new year begins, it’s important to reflect on our victories as well as our failures.  What did the company do really well over the past year, and just as importantly, what area produced weak performance?  My suggestion would be to have a company meeting to discuss this very topic with the objective of setting specific goals for the coming twelve months.  Below are a few topics you just might want to include on your discussion list:

  • Turnover – How many employees (techs or staff) left the company over the past year?  If the number is high, the question becomes why?  Sure, they may have been a poor fit but the larger question is to look at your hiring practices.  How do you interview and utilize DISC testing?  Are there core issues with how you treat employees?  Yes, they may have done a poor job, but , take a good look at your new employee orientation program and training process.  I heard a great quote a while back, “Seldom is the problem in front of you the real issue. There is usually a foundational problem behind the issue.”  Having an open and honest discussion with all employees on this topic can be very telling.  If you are an owner or manager, remember being critical or defensive of comments being made will cause the room to suddenly become very quiet.  Swallow your pride to accomplish the larger objective of getting better.
  • Gain/Loss of Maintenance Agreement Customers – Maintenance agreements are literally the foundation stone for profitable growth.  The final selling price for most trades companies is usually heavily dependent on the number of active maintenance agreements the company has.  Keep accurate records of the number of maintenance agreement customers gained and lost during the past year.  Compare total active maintenance agreement customers at the end of the year with each previous year.  Is the number growing?  If not, why?
  • Did the Company Make a Net Profit in All Departments? – This can be an elusive number for a couple different reasons.  The first, is cash flow verses accounting.  As most are aware, it’s not unusual to see an accounting P/L statement that says you made a profit (which you will have to pay taxes on) while noting there is far less money in the company checkbook.   Be sure to look at net profit from both perspectives.
  • The other issue is departmentalization – Few companies departmentalize all the way through sales, overhead, labor and materials, but look only at the overall company’s net profit.  The potential problem is–one department can easily be subsidizing another one and no one knows it…until it’s too late!  Review your net profit by department and compare this year with past years.  Are profits increasing or decreasing and why?
  • Debt Status – This can be an eye opener.  Simply list all outstanding debt including balances owed on loans, unpaid credit card balances, overdue money owed to suppliers, personal loans to the company, balances on your lines of credit, and overdue taxes.  Totaling these dollars can be a wakeup call.  The objective is to have the “total owed” figure substantially DECREASING each year.  Hint:  Build debt repayment into your overhead cost when setting proper hourly rates. If you don’t, all that net profit you made will quickly be swallowed up by debt repayment.
  • Closing Rate on Sales Presentations – An acceptable closing rate for sales presentations is at least 50% or more.  What is your rate per individual?  Is it going up or down year-to-year?  If the closing percentage is not increasing, you need to know why.  Do some or all sales people and/or selling technicians need some additional formal training?  Reviewing these percentages, at least annually (monthly or quarterly is better), can keep the sales team on track.
  • Total Dollars Tied Up in Inventory – How many dollars does the company have tied up in inventory?  If the dollar figure is going up it might be because the company is growing therefore additional inventory is needed.  It may be caused by your sloppy purchasing policy.  Do yourself a favor and at least look at the number and ask the question.
  • How Often Do You Meet with Your CPA? – This topic was purposely brought up last.  It’s hard to manage the company without taking a close look at the numbers.  All the above topics are important but the bottom line is what is really important.  Did the company make a profit this past month?  It does little good to find out you had a rotten year three months after the close of the year.  Company owners need to know how they did financially within 10 days of closing out each month.  Make it a habit (not a goal) to sit down with your CPA by the 10th of each month to review your numbers.  If they are not providing “practical” advice on how to improve your bottom line profit, it’s time to find a new CPA!

Before you set this article down pick up your calendar and select a date for your annual company meeting to discuss at least some of the above items.  Make it fun.  Select a really nice restaurant so you not only review progress but provide a big thank you to those that helped the company grow and prosper.  Everyone wants and needs to be appreciated.

Improve Your Business AND Yourself in 2018 (1)

by Dave Ramsey

Have you noticed there are some business owners who just seem to get it right every time? It seems like anything they touch turns to gold. How do they do it? What’s that magic formula that finds them so blessed, while many other entrepreneurs continue to struggle?

For most successful people, it’s as simple as this: They have a plan. They write down their goals, and stick to them. Goals force practical steps into your life that help make your dreams come true.

If you haven’t tackled your business goals for the new year, here are some ideas to help you get started. Remember, they’re only suggestions. For your goals to truly work, they must be yours.

1. Get your finances in order
Want to know the number-one reason small businesses fail? Poor accounting. If you don’t keep up with it, you’ll sink like the Titanic.

But that’s just the start. You can’t rely solely on a profit-and-loss statement to see what’s happening with your business. You need a realistic budget that forces you to address the present while planning for the future.

2. Commit to a better hiring process
The main reason small business owners hire the wrong people is they move too quickly. They’re afraid the work won’t get done until the position is filled. While there’s some truth to this, you should also know it takes more time to quickly hire three people who don’t work out than it does to find that one good person who’s perfect for the job.

Commit to slowing down your hiring process. Invest more time and thought in the interview process, and don’t make an offer until you find the right person — no matter how long it takes. At my company, each new hire has gone through five or six interviews.

Remember, you don’t want someone who is just looking for a J-O-B. You want someone who is passionate about the position and your mission.

3. Find a mentor or coach
What’s the one trait that almost all successful entrepreneurs have in common? They have a wise and experienced mentor who shows them the ropes and holds them accountable.

Find good people who are doing things with excellence, who are having the kind of success you envision having one day, and learn from them. You don’t have to stick to just one. You can have a different mentor for every area of your life.

4. Get healthy
Have you ever noticed you don’t have a lot of fight or enthusiasm in you when you’re tired? In business, there’s always going to be a battle, so take care of yourself! Get in shape, eat healthy foods, and get plenty of rest. Give your mind and body what they need, so you can fight another day.

So, what are you waiting for? Write down those goals and get started. Goodbye, stress. Hello, prosperity!

How Long Can Your Company Survive Without Income?

by Tom Grandy

The vast majority of workers in the United States live from paycheck to paycheck.  If they lost their job it would have serious consequences in terms of meeting their monthly obligations.  Many of us remember 2008 when the economic world came to a screeching halt.  Seemingly overnight the economy took a nose dive and many businesses went bankrupt within months.  I believe it was AT&T but the situation was not limited to their company.  Credit was tight and the statement came out something like this:  “How are we going to make payroll since we can’t borrow money?”  I was shocked!  I was reading about one of the top companies in the country that was going to be in a financial mess because they could not borrow money to make payroll.  Some of the greatest minds in the business world worked for this company, and many others like it, and yet they did not have the common sense to build up cash for a rainy day fund …just in case!  Amazing.

Poor financial management, which includes preparing for the future, is not limited to the big companies.   Small businesses everywhere are very similar to the majority of US workers…they live from week to week when it comes to paying their bills.  Most reading this article are in the trades industry.  Our industry is notorious for it seasonality.  Weather dramatically affects sales for most of the industry.  It’s been that way forever and it’s not likely to change.  However, what can and should change is how we prepare for the slow seasons.

Many reading this article are Dave Ramsey fans.  If you have listened to Dave for very long you will remember his mentioning (as the initial step towards financial freedom) the creation of an Emergency Fund.   The long term objective is to have an Emergency Fund that will cover 3-6 months of income…just in case.  Guess what?  The same principle applies to our businesses.  We need an Emergency Fund as well.

How Much Is Enough?

To answer that question let’s use an example.  Let’s assume our small business grosses $600,000 per year or an average of $50,000/month.  The monthly fixed overhead (overhead dollars that must go out each month to stay afloat) is let’s say $12,000.  Adding in salaries of the “key” overhead people (ones that you really want to keep on the payroll at all costs) will increase the number to perhaps $22,000/month.

Utilizing Dave Ramsey’s parameters of wanting a 3-6 month Emergency Fund would mean the company needs to have savings of $66,000 to $132,000 to be on the safe side.  “Wow, Tom that is a lot of money!”  It sure is.  It is unlikely the company will go 3-6 months with NO income so perhaps a more realistic range would be $40,000 to $80,000 in the bank as an Emergency Fund.   Now some of you may be thinking, like AT&T, I will simply draw from my line of credit should the need arise.  In 2008 that “assumed resource” disappeared.  Better to be safe than sorry.

How Do We Generate Cash for the Emergency Fund?

The principle is pretty straightforward.  If your rent, insurance, or wages go up, how do they get covered?  You increase you pricing to the customer.  If you want to create an Emergency Fund of $60,000 then the $60,000 needs to become part of your budget, therefore, part of your pricing.  If you were a service company with three techs that means you would produce roughly 3,000 billed hours per year.  The hourly rate needs to increase by $20/hour ($60,000 / 3,000 billed hours = $20.00/hour).  If your objective were to create the fund over two years then the rate will only need to go up $10/hour.  This happens AFTER the Emergency Fund is fully funded.  At this point DO NOT CHANGE YOUR HOURLY RATE.  The money that was being used to create the fund just became additional profit!

Wouldn’t you sleep better at night knowing you had a fully funded Emergency Fund sitting in the bank, just in case?

The “Ins and Outs” of A Service Partner Plan

By Nancy O’Hare-Zika

As the General Manager and Marketing Director at Swick Home Services, I was often tasked with the organization and promotion of our Service Partner Plan. We called ours the “Gold Star Service Plan” but, regardless of what you call it, it is essentially all the same.  An SPP is a mutually beneficial partnership between your company and your customers.  Typically the customer will pay an annual fee to be a “member” and will in turn receive special discounts, priority scheduling, reduced or eliminated afterhours fees, and a routine cleaning and inspection of the home’s heating/cooling equipment.

A program like this assists you and your team with filling the schedule during times of low call volume and puts you back in the driver seat by allowing you to put calls where you need them in order to keep the schedule running smoothly.  Some people spend an enormous amount of time deciding what they are going to charge for this membership, which is why pricing seems to be the question I am asked most about SPP’s…and my answer?   FREE!   Okay … maybe not FREE, but it’s important to note that if your concern is about “covering your cost,” you may be thinking about the purpose of Service Partner Plans (SPP) all wrong.

The number one goal of an SPP is simple:  GET YOUR TECH IN FRONT OF THE CUSTOMER!  The job of the marketing department is to get the tech in the door … it is the technician’s job to WOW that customer.  Of course, while the technician is in the home, they have the opportunity to “sticker” every piece of equipment in that home.  Anyone that enters the home of one of ‘your’ customers should know EXACTLY who has provided service in that home. This is important especially if the home changes owners.   Your company will most likely be first in line to service that equipment in the future.

I felt so strongly about this added exposure that I gave away more SPP’s than were sold.  Any time someone was sent my way, soliciting a donation for whatever cause, they received a nice package that contained information about our business, a magnet, information about the SPP, and a gift certificate for a free year of the program.  School events, medical benefits, and community events … if I was asked for a donation, that is what was given.  We gave a free year for every new piece of equipment installed AND we gave a “share with a friend” certificate as well.

Additionally, I created a “New Home Buyer Packet” that contained a note of congratulations to happy new homeowners, some information about our company and the services we offer, a fridge magnet, and a gift certificate for a one year SPP. Each quarter, I would make the rounds to the most popular agencies and dropped off a bundle of new packets and I always included several for the realtors themselves. We encouraged the realtors to create gift baskets to be presented to each new homeowner at closing and even allowed the realtor to fill out the certificate themselves, making them the hero and gift giver. We didn’t care about who took credit for the gift; we just wanted the new customer.

This simple shift in how we managed the SPP’s obviously increased the total number of plan participants, but also served as a key component for a $1 million sales increase that year.  Changing your mindset of how you manage your SPP program can be a simple revenue builder and may be an untapped fountain of opportunity.

If Everything Is the Same, Price is the Deciding Factor

by Tom Grandy

Kenny Chapman recently presented an outstanding live webinar to our Advantage Members.  During his presentation he made the following statement. “If everything is the same, price is the deciding factor.  If nothing is the same, price is never the deciding factor”.

I am going to give you a moment to read that statement again, then encourage you to think about the ramifications as you ponder how you sell products and services.

What kinds of products are sold on Amazon?  Right … commodity items.  Why do millions of people buy on Amazon?  Answer, since the item they desire to purchase is a commodity item (meaning lots of organizations offer the same exact item) the deciding factor is price … right!  Since Amazon has been around for many years it has established the reputation of being the “least expensive” place to buy an item online.  If you happen to be a Prime Member (which I highly recommend) most items are free shipping as well.  Face it,if you want to physically purchase an item based on price, you go to Walmart.  If you want to buy online you go to Amazon. Again, why?  “If everything is the same, price is the deciding factor.”

Think about what your company offers.  If you are a plumber, HVAC, electrical or any other trade’s contractor the basic equipment you sell is pretty much the same as other contractors in your industry or town.  If you offer basic equipment based on price, that item just became a commodity, so guess what?  The customer’s decision on who to purchase from is now based on price, period!

“If nothing is the same, price is never the deciding factor.”  Think about it.  How do you compare two items that are totally different in color, function, and/or benefits.  Bottom line you can’t so the buying process has now shifted from being a commodity decision (based on price) to deciding if the offering meets and exceeds your expectations.  The offering can become unique (no longer based on price) in lots of different ways.  Let me list just a few:

  • Description of Installation Process – Keep in mind most customers know little how you will physically replace their equipment.  One quote might say “Replace old XYZ with brand new ABC.”  That is simple and to the point but very commodity (price) based.

What would your reaction be if you read or the sale person explained the process like this:

  • Our truck may be parked in your driveway or in front of the house, your preference
  • Before entering your home our technicians will place booties on their shoes (so we don’t mess up your carpets.)
  • “Clean” drop cloths will be placed from the front door to the point of installation
  • ABC equipment will be professionally installed by one of our factory trained certified technicians.  All technicians are required to have at least X number of technical training hours per year.
  • After installation the equipment will be thoroughly tested to ensure its proper installation prior to leaving.
  • The homeowner will be totally briefed on how the equipment is operated with written instructions provided if necessary.
  • The old equipment will be properly and environmentally disposed of at no cost to you.
  • Once installation is completed the entire area will be vacuumed with the objective of leaving the area as clean as it was found if not cleaner.
  • Office Records:
  1. All your equipment information (date installed, make, model, serial number, etc.) will be entered into our state of the art computer system.
  2. When maintenance is performed or future repairs are made, all records will be maintained as part of your complete equipment history.
  3. ü  You will be notified the month BEFORE your warranty expires to allow us time to make any repairs (if needed) while your equipment is still covered.Happy Call – A few days after the installation has been completed you will receive a phone call from our Customer Service Representative to be sure everything is running properly.  If you have any questions we encourage you to write them down so they may be answered at the time.
  • Our technicians take full responsibility for each installation they perform.  Should there be a problem, necessary tweaks or adjustments needed to the equipment, the same technician that installed your equipment will return to your home. We believe in personal accountability!
  • One last item.  We are fully insured so in the unlikely event of an accident our employees and their work are fully covered.

Ok, which quote was unique and which one seemed professional to you.  Same equipment but one is being offered based on price, the other provides extra value for the same equipment … and likely at a higher price with increased profit!

  • Price Includes Additional Benefits – Become totally unique by offering additional benefits others do not. What about changing out smoke detector batteries or if you are a plumber, throwing in a set of stainless steel hoses for the washing machine (originals only last 3-5 years).  I remember a competitor getting the contract for siding and trimming an entire house because he was going to “recondition” the customers awnings.  Translated, he was going to paint them!  You get the idea; offer something other contractors (selling the same equipment) do not offer.
  • Offering a Variety of Add-On Options – It’s amazing how many customers would have purchased one or more add-on items if someone had taken the time to explain their benefits.  Better yet, include some of these add-on items in the original “Best” price (we will talk about Good, Better, Best options in a minute)
  • Extending Warranty on Labor – Consider extending the warranty on YOUR labor, free of charge.  Face it, if there were a problem with the equipment that your technician caused you would go fix it, free of charge, right?  So why not extend the labor warranty.

The last point:  A commodity sale basically says “This is the price … do you want it or not?”  However, if your offering is unique, you need to offer choices.  Offer Best, Better and Good in that order.  Always start with the gold offering that covers everything.  Then take away a few benefits on the Better offering and finally offer the Good option, in case price is a major problem.  Most find the average customer chooses the Better option … but not all the time.  Providing one option creates the “take it or leave it” environment.  Multiple offerings (that are unique) provide choice.  Hey, this is America … we want choice!

Five Reasons Your Business Needs a Hill & Valley Account

by Bill Kinnard

Business can be hard enough on a day-to-day basis without wondering how you’re going to cover the bills, the next payroll, monthly withholding payments and every other person, vendor or team member who wants to take every nickel out of your bank account. A Hill & Valley account can make your life a lot easier during those slower times of year. Here’s how it works. Part of the monthly budget – yes you need a monthly budget – should be a payment into the Hill & Valley account. Treat this payment with the same urgency as the rent, your utility bill, or a payment to your suppliers. Some call this a rainy day fund. Dave Ramsey says his grandmother used to tell him he needed a rainy day fund. When he replied “well that’s not a very positive attitude”, his grandmother told him “I’m positive, it will rain some day!”

The H&V account should be in a separate account. Don’t let the money sit in your checking account. The law of money says that every significant budget can and will absorb every dollar that you make available to it. YOU HAVE A SIGNIFICANT SIZED BUDGET! If you leave the money in your checking account, it will disappear. There is always just one more tool that would make your job easier. Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get distracted. This is a cash flow budget item. Transfer the dollars to a different account. There is not profit at the end of the month until after this payment has been made. On months where you are slow and there is no cash coming in, you can pull the money out of the H&V account to maintain your cash flow and stay current. When the profit returns, do everything you can to replenish your H&V account.

Here are five benefits to establishing the H&V account.

  1. There Will Be Slow Months – Just as Dave Ramsey’s grandmother said “I’m positive, it will rain some day!”, I am just as positive you will have slow months. You have those times of year when the cash in just doesn’t equal the cash out. During these months you can draw funds out of your H&V account to make up the difference. Again, be diligent about replenishing the H&V account  on your first profitable month.
  2. Evens Out Cash Flow – if you have funds available to make up the shortfall on negative cash flow months, you even out your cash flow. You know how frustrating it is when you get behind one month and then spend the next three months digging out of the hole. It’s a different mindset repaying yourself then owing your suppliers or vendors and dealing with past due calls from them.
  3. Puts Your Team At Ease – whether you realize it or not, your demeanor changes when you are under the stress of dealing with the day-to-day cash flow struggles. Your team sees this and their performance changes along with your change in demeanor.  When you’re tense, they walk around on egg shells. They will be tentative about taking ownership of their role for fear of having to deal with the ramifications of a wrong decision on their part. As a result, productivity suffers.
  4. Gives You More Confidence In Running Your Business – Life changes when you are not worrying about every penny and where it is coming from and where it needs to go once it gets here. You will make wiser decisions when it comes to moving your company forward along its path of growth and increased productivity. When you are stressed by cash flow struggles, you tend to have to micromanage every aspect of the day-to-day business. When you micromanage, you become the lid – the limiting factory of your company. It cannot grow beyond you. You have to be comfortable with the leaders you have trained and let them run.
  5. Lets You Sleep At Night – you have enough to deal with in running your business. When the day is over you need to go home and enjoy your family. You can’t live to work but instead, you need to work to live. There are far more important things in your life than working. I don’t know of anyone who was on their deathbed and said “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Life is short. Being able to go home at the end of the day and enjoy your family, getting a great night of sleep so you can function at a high level has tremendous benefits. Be intentional about getting to this point.

At the end of the day, monies that you deposit into your Hill & Valley account will be allocated as profit when it comes to your profit and loss and you will pay taxes on those profit dollars but this is not about accounting. This is about being able to run your business on a day-to-day, month-to month basis. You will have those slow cash flow months. Plan ahead to be able to walk through them with ease.

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