Small Business Minute #50- Confidence

Confidence

When we first hang out our Small Business shingle, we outwardly exude confidence in our idea and our abilities that we will succeed. But if truth be told, we have absolutely no idea how the story will end. Will it be a fairy tale or a horror story?

Mouse in a maze

Throughout the planning stages, we have spent hours upon hours dreaming of the future we will create. We hope that this future will take us on an amazing and positive journey. Realistically though, this journey will not be in a straight line from A to B. It will not be simply a matter of putting one foot in front of another. Often, the entrepreneurial journey is more akin to mouse in a maze where it keeps running into dead ends in search of that elusive piece of cheese.

Of the many challenges we face is that success and failure can exist in the same day and frequently collide creating an emotional roller coaster. But true believers have the confidence that no matter what obstacles come their way, they’ll have the wherewithal either go through it, around it or over it to be successful.

Self-assurance

This confidence is not based on wishful thinking but is a feeling that resides deep within them. It’s a belief in themselves. A self-assurance, if you will, that lets them focus on the end goal that allows them to continuously move forward even if they don’t have all the answers. They know they’ll eventually figure it out.

Having that inner confidence is what sets the successful entrepreneur apart from the rest of the pack.

Recent book read Deep Work by Cal Newport

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2017

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Small Business Minute #49- Clustering For Profits

Clustering For ProfitProfit, that elusive goal that frustrates many a business owners. To be sure, many businesses are just bad ideas that never should have been started in the first place. However, there are plenty of others that are well run with decent revenues but for some reason they aren’t as profitable as they should be.

When helping business owners, one of the first places I look is their pricing model. Other than suggesting some adjustments, their pricing doesn’t appear to be the issue. Take a minute and checkout episode #47 Pricing For Profit for more insight into pricing.

A little probing into customers and marketing initiatives often uncovers a flaw in their sales and marketing activities – namely geography! The problem is rooted in the fact that these businesses are casting their nets too wide. As a result, they fail to generate critical mass for their services in a single geographic area. This is where the concept of clustering can help increase awareness for certain businesses and profits for most.

What is Clustering?

Clustering, is nothing more than grouping your service deliverables or offerings around key geographic areas. Clustering can be applied to many types of businesses and services.

Most major sales organizations have been using clustering for decades. Sales forces use clustering as a way of making the maximum sales calls with minimal travel time between each location. Most delivery companies do the same to generate the necessary efficiencies needed to stay competitive.

Although you would think the concept of clustering is common sense, it has been my experience that it’s not.

To better illustrate, the following are a couple of examples:

Clustering for Service Businesses

Consider the example of a service company. This could be anything from a landscaping business, to equipment repair or a roofing company. It’s not uncommon for many of these companies to be running all over the city, performing their services throughout the day.

For many this comes about because of their marketing and promotion activities. Countless businesses owners wrongly assume that they need to advertise to the widest possible group of customers in the largest geographic area. Often, they have been convinced that, for just a few dollars more, they can blanket the whole city or region instead of focusing on a tighter geographic area.

Appealing as that sounds, this shotgun approach can lead to huge inefficiencies as they now run around the city burning fuel and man hours going between jobs. When you consider that many service company use lawn signs to promote their companies, having many signs in a tight geographic area drives higher customer awareness of your company. As an added bonus, this may help your business development initiatives because people are familiar with your company name.

Granted, every city and business is different and focusing on just one area may not be feasible. However, clustering can still be effective in these situations by limiting your service to certain areas on specific days of the week. For instance, we work in the East end on Monday, South end on Tuesday and so on.
Clustering in this case, ultimately allows you to service more customers during a single day with a greater number of billable hours at reduced costs.

Clustering for Retail Businesses

Retail businesses can also benefit from clustering and save significant money in their advertising and promotions costs. The first thing you need to do is to understand where most of your customers are coming from. By simply collecting their postal or zip code, you’ll quickly see a pattern emerge from key geographic areas. One thing that may surprise you is that most of your customers aren’t coming from as far as you think.

A survey by Brightlocal found that the average time that people will spend in a car to travel to a business, ranges from 12-23 minutes. They have a wonderful infographic that depicts various types of businesses and the time people are willing to travel to them.

Graphic courtesy  of www.brightlocal.com

Driving Times to Local Businesses Infographic

In todays highly competitive environment, finding efficiencies in every part of your business is mandatory and can’t be left to chance.

So, if you want to increase your profits and the effectiveness of your promotions, you should consider the concept of clustering.

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2017

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5 common reasons why HVAC/sheet metal businesses fail- Snips Magazine

BusFailfeature2Originally Published in Snips Magazine- May 2017 edition

Have you ever wondered why a company that appears to be successful goes out of business? It seemed like there was nothing wrong and then suddenly, it’s gone.

This scene is far more common than we think. Every month, thousands of companies cease operating for all sorts of reasons. Of course startups represent the highest failure rate, but what really gets attention is when an established business turns out the lights.

The following is a list of five very common reasons why longstanding businesses close and what you can do to avoid the same fate.

1. Cash flow

The lack of cash flow has brought many businesses near death and the size doesn’t matter. Small and large enterprises have seen their demise even though they were profitable on paper, but couldn’t pay their bills.

Cash flow can be considered the oxygen every business needs to survive. Much like people need oxygen to survive, businesses need cash flow.

So what is cash flow? Cash flow is nothing more than the intake and outflow of money in a business. Much like breathing, getting paid for your work is like inhaling. Paying all your bills is like exhaling. You can only breathe out for so long before there is nothing left. The same applies to your business. There is only so long you can go on paying your bills without sufficient cash coming in.

One solution is to require deposits. For some reason, many HVAC construction business owners are reluctant to ask for a deposit from customers once they’ve made the sale. The minimum you should be requesting is 50 percent because that amount usually goes a long way to covering most, if not all, your hard costs for the job.

By getting this amount upfront, the customer actually pays for the new equipment before you even have to buy it. In addition, this should also cover most of your labor costs. Having that money in the bank before you start a job goes a long way to easing the pain of covering payroll.

Another option is requiring full payments. Much like deposits, your HVAC sales technicians should never leave a job without complete payments. The last thing you want to do is chase after the balance once you’ve left with all your newly installed equipment now locked behind you.

If you’re not doing these things already, you’ll be pleased to see easy it is to implement. People today are far more accustomed to prepaying than ever before. Successfully executing these two steps will go a long way in reducing, if not eliminating, your overdraft needs, and thereby lowering your bank charges and increasing your profitability.

2. Lack of skills

Many HVAC market contractors are technical experts as far as their trade goes, but are lacking in basic business skills. This isn’t surprising, considering most became experts by performing work and got into business because they saw an opportunity. Nowhere along the way did they get any training in business skills.

This lack of business know-how really didn’t matter when they were small, but the minute they began to grow, the cracks began to appear. As they continue to grow, these small cracks soon overwhelm the owners as they grapple with the business side of the business.

Many people let pride and ego get in the way of asking for help because just working a little harder was all that was needed to fix things. Unfortunately, learning to run a business can be like stepping into an abyss because in many cases owners don’t even know what questions to ask.

Instead, start by identifying the three things that are constantly frustrating you and then pick one to focus on. For example, if your company expenses seem to be out of control, start questioning every bill you pay. You can’t leave this to the bookkeeper; you need to do it yourself. You may be very surprised at where your money is going every month. Do some research to determine what the local HVAC industry norms are for your fixed expenses. Not sure what fixed expenses are? Google it. This is all part of becoming a business owner.

If your problem is service callbacks, look for patterns. Are your technicians leaving a job without double-checking everything? Are they going to a job without all the necessary parts and equipment, forcing them to make a special trip to the distributor? Once you start to track these issues, it becomes a lot easier to put a plan in place. By the way, screaming louder is not a plan.

For other areas of the business, like sales or marketing, signing up for some training may be all you need to give you a different perspective. There are many in-person sessions available, and online training courses are easy to find.

You may also consider hiring a business coach to help you. Alternatively, reaching out to successful business owners you know and admire and asking them to become your mentor may be all you need. In either case, make sure your personalities align, otherwise you may walk away disillusioned.

3. Profitability

Ever wonder why you’re overwhelmed with work, but can’t seem to make any money? Chances are you’re either not charging enough or your costs are out of line.

The only way to figure out if you’re not charging enough is to dig into your costs. Too often, owners haven’t established a formal costing model. Start by itemizing exactly what goes into every job. All too often, quotes are nothing more than off -the-cuff guess estimates. It doesn’t end there though. Once a job is completed, you then need to do a follow-up analysis of the actual costs. This way you can determine where you’ve nailed it or what you missed in your original quote. This way you can continually improve your quoting accuracy.

The added benefit is that by doing this post-mortem of every job, it helps you to start questioning every expense item and gives you the opportunity to look for ways to become more efficient. Everything should be questioned, from costs of parts, labor and even travel time. The thing is, most accounting software packages have this functionality, so you only have to start using the job costing module.

While you’re at, it may be time to start looking at all your other costs from cellphones, insurance and fuel to see if you’re getting the best deal. Every dollar you save or spend either goes into your pocket or comes out of it.

You can only improve your profitability if you know your numbers.

4. Attitude

One silent destructor of business is the owner’s attitude. If you’ve managed to survive in business for 10-plus years and dealt with all the stress and challenges that come with being an owner, you now have to guard yourself from becoming cynical.

Owning and running an HVAC or sheet metal products business is tough, hard work, and over time the joy of running your business may become less and less appealing. You may find your tolerance to legitimate customers’ concerns or questions more of a pain than an opportunity to reinforce their decision to do business with you. The same applies to those routine inquiries by your staff that have now become a source of frustration. If this is the case, you may need an attitude adjustment.

The best thing you can do when you find yourself with a less-than-happy disposition is to figure out what is really annoying you.

In many situations, it comes down to not enjoying the entrepreneurial journey anymore. Business ownership is not for everyone and as the business grows, we get further and further away from the things we really enjoyed when we first started out.

One effective solution is to spend at least one day a week doing the things you enjoy. If performing manual ductwork fabrication is what you’re missing, then go ahead and do it. It’s your company and you have earned the right to do any job in the company you want.

5. Burnout

Much like attitude, burnout creeps in over a period of time. Of course, during the early years you need to work to ensure survival. Unfortunately, many owners never evolve with their business and remain in that mode long after they should have shifted into the next level of business ownership:  management.

Maintaining a startup mode after the initial three to five years is a sure way to end up suffering burnout.

One of the first things you need do is give yourself permission to take a break. That could be nothing more than playing hooky for a day to taking a full-fledged vacation. Either way, you need to gain some perspective.

The second thing you need to do is stop doing everything and start delegating. Start with some small tasks that you really dislike doing. I find one of the least-liked duties that owners perform is bookkeeping and administration. Outsourcing the bookkeeping is pretty straightforward and delegating some of the administration duties is a good starting point.

The same applies for scheduling and parts ordering. Can someone else assume some of these responsibilities? Granted they may not be as good at it as you are, but chances are they’re better than you used to be when you first started.

You’re not invincible, and you need to seriously look at unburdening yourself. You’re not supposed to be the hardest working person in your company. Otherwise, what’s the point of being in business for yourself?

They say the first step in correcting a problem is to admit you have one in the first place. Taking a hard look at yourself and your business might help you to identify any of these five items early in order to avoid the fate of so many wonderful businesses that simply disappeared.

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