You're a one-person operation and want to stay that way. You don't want the hassle of even one employee. You know how to handle the work you have and don't need more because of referrals; you make enough to pay for long-term disability, retirement, kids' educations, vacations, a home, etc. You're fulfilling all the responsibilities life demands, are happy, doin' biz on your terms, and find it is absolutely possible to attain all the above given a little luck, good health, and a can-do attitude.
You’re a sole proprietor — uh, that's even more reason to implement systems and procedures than you may think. Why?
Consistency: There's nothing modern Americans dislike more than not having their expectations met exactly the same way every time they buy a service or product. You may be the most well-liked tech in town, but if you ain't consistent "they" won't call you back. Consistency is the reason many companies follow the McDonald's model. Ol’ McD has a manual so thick you can barely lift it and checklists to keep everything the same everywhere, every time, every order. Notice their folks always ask, "Want a large coke and fries with that cow-burger?" It's in their manual. (I had checklists for every job we did — yep, every one — and, because we did, our callbacks were minimal and average tickets large.)
Security & Liability: Take Flat Rate invoicing for example. FR keeps you consistent, but did you realize that consistency is also proof you charge the same for one-'n-all? This is becoming very important because our boomers are growing older exponentially, so just imagine how many elder abuse complaints our district attorneys are goin' to start receiving. If you're turned-in because a friend or relative thought you took advantage, how will you explain that you charged the 80-year-old Mrs. Jones more than the 40-year-old Mrs. Smith for the same toilet repair because you were doin' T&M? Yeah, keep doin' T&M.
Tracking: Track everything because you need to know wassup. Do you know the number of such items as: Number of incoming calls or referrals needed to stay busy; average ticket and amount of time actually spent on the job (billable hours) so you get a picture of what's needed to stay busy? If you don't track you'll be sittin' in front of the phone wonderin' what happened. Tracking's not all that difficult and will make you smile when you take a gander at your next P&L.
Learning: This is one of the most overlooked systems a small business owner encounters because ... tada(!), there ain't enough time. Might as well tell yourself change ain't important. At the very least you should be reading CONTRACTOR Magazine, get involved with its forums, follow a few threads, ask a few questions, or simply lurk if nothin' else.
Motivation: This is another overlooked system for the smaller company. Employers know they need to keep their worker-bees motivated and have systems for this (or should); but how do the owners themselves stay motivated? I know how I did it and was so successful I looked forward eagerly each day to git-up and git to work. My career was a work of art — creative, fun, positive, adding to the lives of the many folks lucky enough to be my customers, or the few lucky enough to work with me. That's not bragging; that's how I felt! Imagine your life that way and you'll begin to see a need for self-motivation, 'cause, if you be a sole-proprietor, ain't no one goin' to do it for you.
Of course, there's many more systems and procedures you can easily put in place to make your business feel like it's running on automatic, and I hope the above examples show why.
And, hey, it's the holiday season! Thanksgiving is the special holiday for me because I have so much to be grateful for. I hope you do too, even if your day's interrupted by bein' called out to clear a drain or fix a leak. Remember you chose to be in a service business, so I sincerely hope you meet those customer demands with gratitude and a smile.
Ed O’Connell is the pro-active consultant to the subcontracting industry, a business coach for the smaller folks. He can be reached in Auburn, California at 530/878-5273 or by email at [email protected].