IT IS RESOLUTION time again. I propose you devote 2004 to a personal and business campaign to become a strong businessman. I am convinced that most of the problems of the industry could be cured if each of you became fanatically devoted to running your business as a true professional.
We hear from many directions that the industry has a shortage of craftsmen and a shortage of entry-level people of quality. I believe this is absolutely true. I further believe that nothing will change until the poor image of the industry changes. The image will not change just because we pass some resolutions or hire some fancy PR firm.
If you, individually, become a professional businessman instead of trying to emulate the industry symbol of long ago, the handsome Big Lug in overalls standing beside a gasoline lead-pot furnace, the industry’s image will improve. Contracting will become attractive to quality young people. Young people who aspire to successful business careers never, ever think of entering our trade.
So this year, I would like you all to resolve to tighten up your operations. If you are not operating in a businesslike manner, either change now or go back to working with the tools or supervising a crew for some successful contractor. Consider it either a refresher course or earning an advanced graduate degree.
There is nothing wrong with going back to the tools, using all your mechanical skills and being paid for those skills at the income level you deserve, which may be, with fringes, a better, more secure living than some of you have today.
This column and the column to follow in January will be devoted to the elements of businesslike practices that I expect you to emulate.
You need good, current financial information. You are probably reading this sometime in December, most likely in the middle of the month. If you do not have your November actual financial information in your hand, along with year-to-date information, then you can’t convince me that you deserve to be in that group of contractors I call true professionals.
Quite possibly, that person who you call your “bookkeeper” is professionally incapable of supplying you the information that you need. Resolve to take the necessary steps immediately to get good, timely financial information. Poor, late or no information costs you more than finding and paying a qualified person to do the job.
Insure yourself against financial loss because of the dishonest handling of your funds. If your current insurance policy doesn’t cover employee theft, take whatever steps are necessary to protect yourself immediately.
One of the harsh realities of our business is that if you find a smart bookkeeper that’s not a straight arrow, that bookkeeper will quickly figure out where and how to steal your money. In other words, be sure you have the only straw in your milkshake.
Your banker and your suppliers will be delighted to know of your resolve to become more businesslike. Perhaps they will help you identify a competent bookkeeper or accountant.
Ideally you would have a bookkeeper handle the month-to-month financials and an accountant to help you with more complicated problems and at the year-end.
Resolve to change your physical corporate image. Your business will never, ever be successful enough to afford the luxury of beat-up-looking trucks and disreputable-looking employees.
Don’t make any further excuses for a second-rate image projected by either your equipment or your people. Business books are written on the subject of the proper way of terminating employees.
But let’s not make it complicated. When you decide that you have an employee who does not fit your company, don’t try to change your business pattern to fit that employee. Be prepared to pay a severance payment and get him out of your organization immediately. No two-week notice. He needs to pick up his stuff and get on the road now.
Here’s the short course. There are no 90-day probations. If you know a new employee isn’t right on day three, then you have a three-day probation. The quicker you make it possible for an out-of-step employee to start looking for a new job, the better it is for everyone in your company.
If you let someone stay even one day after he has been terminated, he will spend that day bad mouthing you and justifying his prior unacceptable actions.
I know that some of you are thinking that Christmas is coming and it would be terrible to fire people before Christmas. Let me clarify something for you, Vern. There is never a good day to fire someone. If you think there is, I would suggest you need counseling.
On the other hand, if someone needs to be fired, there is never a better day to do the deed than today. You do not look at the calendar to make these decisions; you look at the employee.