Seven Tough “Taking Stock” Questions

“He who asks questions cannot avoid the answers” Cameroonian proverb

So I just recently ruminated on how our individual success can be measured by “Being grateful”. (And I even threw in a Biblical reference for good measure!)  However, an old saying also states, “If you do what you have always done… you will get what you’ve always gotten!”

That’s right, just surviving another week/ month/ year on its own isn’t going to change anything unless you a) take stock of where you are now and b) plan what to improve. (Can’t we all agree that “being grateful for FAILING” is just a bit sad and maybe even self-delusional?)

So humbly submitted, here is my “Taking Stock” Question List that analyzes where I see too many residential service entrepreneurs stuck right now.  For those who see their business and/or life reflected in one or more of these negative scenarios (hopefully not in all of them!) I’ll also share some possible solutions.

  1. Have I decided “Who am I/what do I want to be”? Sure, when you started out you took every job that came in.  (Desperation will do that to you!)  But once established it is time to stop trying to be all things to all people.

Solution:  Focus on your top profit producing areas and your personal/family goals.  Meditate on “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and most importantly, what sort of legacy do you want to leave behind?  Then once you have chosen your business model/image ask yourself…

  1. Am I doing inconsistent “Butterfly Marketing”? Too often residential service providers “flit aimlessly” from one marketing scheme to the next- vainly searching for the “one sure thing”.  The result?  Frittered away advertising funds, missed opportunities and even worse years lost on your business/life growth curve.

Solution:  Test, test, test each marketing technique.  Recognize that your marketing should be synergistic- tapping into multiple avenues. (STOP depending on only one advertising solution.) Then when you find a marketing strategy that works-  stick with it.  (I’m always amazed at how many of my Home Front students confess, “I used to do that.  Not really sure why I stopped…”)  Now here is an introspective question that doesn’t get asked nearly enough…

  1. Have I worked alone on the truck for too long? Sure, employees can be a headache.  But remember that despite your very best efforts your body over time is only going one way. (Hint:  None of us are getting better with each passing year.)

Solution(s):  Seriously reflect on two things: A) Are you capable of running a multi-truck business and B) do you really want to “get big”?

If your answer is “no” that’s OK.  Not everyone should “get big”.  But if you crave the supposedly simple and care free life of a solo “Lone Wolf” owner-operator then recognize two things.  1) Your one-person residential service business very likely will not sell for enough to retire on (if you can sell it at all) and 2) your days of being able to “hit it hard” physically will probably end before your income requirements stop!

So immediately start developing alternative income sources to fill this financial gap.  What to do?  Can you morph a hobby into a lucrative side job?  Or consider buying distressed properties now for rental income later.  But come up with something because only an insane person would depend on Social Security in the future!  On the other hand…

If you honestly want to “get big” and are capable of doing so then better to get started NOW!  Your body isn’t waiting for you!  Don’t waste another year waffling on what to do.  However, it isn’t a rosy picnic hiring employees either.  For example, ask yourself…

  1. Am I being held hostage by my employees? Once an employee recognizes that “you need them more than they need you” the honeymoon is over.  Yep, the old “law of supply and demand” kicks in and even the best employee will shamelessly take advantage of the situation you have allowed to happen!  (Can you blame them?)

Solution:  Treat your employees with respect and dignity.  Reward, recognize and praise them.  But NEVER be afraid of your workers.  Rebuild your courage by constantly searching for prospective employees.  Ideally you want a list of pre-selected, quality new hires waiting on the sidelines, eager to work for you.  (“Desperation Hiring” was always a nightmare for me!)

Then develop step-by-step training systems that let you easily get a new employee up to speed. Many times I put off firing a marginal worker because of the agony of hiring/training a new employee!  It is incredibly liberating to have a written system that easily orients new employees.

NOTE: Actually there is a (cough-cough) 12 session, 7 hour residential tech training course all ready to go on how to create delighted customers HERE. (HINT: It has nothing to do with “doing good work”.)

  1. Have I stalled out on “The Road In-between”? Given #3 above eventually almost all residential contractors hire employees.  Making this transition puts them in a difficult spot- what I call “too big but too small”.  Huh?  Adding employees/trucks means a residential service provider’s business will be “too big” to enjoy the simple life of an owner-operator.  But his or her growing operation is still far too small to delegate out managerial duties.  Translated this means everything crushes down on an overwhelmed business owner.

Now this “Road In-Between”  (RIB) is a necessary (and very challenging) phase you must go through IF you want to grow your company.  The problem is I find way too many service business owners have “stalled out”.  So they hunker down and endure this agonizing “too big but too small” Road-In-Between business model for their entire career!

Solution:  Once you decide to go big then work every day toward creating a “Critical Mass Business”- one that will run with you OR without you.  Document, simplify and streamline every process in your company PLUS find quality employees that will share this vision of “a company that works”.  (Most don’t.)  Of course this process will require funding so now ask…

  1. Am I behind on or even ignoring my “financials”? Sure, in the beginning you did the job- spent the money and hopefully the process repeated itself!  But now you have something called “overhead”.  (Employees, payments due to suppliers, outstanding loans, obligations, taxes due and yes, a hungry family to feed!)  In today’s tough business climate just glancing at the bottom number of your out-of-date P&L isn’t enough.

Solution:  Remember the immortal words:  “Every number (and percentage) tells a story”.  So ferret out where your money is dribbling away in business.  It is easy to gloss over seemingly small amounts.  But it is MUCH better to save $10.00 in repeat overhead than to book a $100.00 or even a $500.00 job.  Remember to compare percentages over time- these will give a more accurate picture of your company’s financial health trends.

NOTE:  Your monthly Income Statement is “old news” even before it hits your desk.  So develop a weekly one page financial “State of the Union” report.  And speaking of “financials”…

  1. Am I “paying myself first”? No, I’m not talking about drawing out your “beer and chips” money.  (This priority somehow never gets overlooked!)  But are you religiously and regularly funding a Personal Investment Plan?  For example, if you “sweep” just $100.00 per week into a tax-deferred account that averages 8% per year (which the stock market over time historically will easily do) after 30 years you’ll have over 650,000 dollars in your retirement nest egg!  Now are you really going to tell me you can’t easily set aside a measly 100 bucks a week?  Seriously?

No matter what answers you came up with on these seven “Taking Stock” questions I remind every Home Front Success student, “It is always better to have money than not have money.  Why?  Because personal wealth allows personal freedom!”

So let me end this tough introspective quiz with one more defining question for you to ponder, “WHEN will I achieve my new life of financial and personal freedom?”  You are part of the great residential services industry where you can achieve your goals… IF you stop now and “take stock”!

Steve