“Why isn’t common sense more common?” an old coach used to ask. It’s a good question. Here are a dozen common sense business practices that are altogether too uncommon among contractors.
1. Pick Up Your Own Mail
Set up a P.O. Box and have all of your mail delivered to it. Be the one to visit it every day. This gives you first glance at invoices, checks, and government correspondence. It is unsettling how many contractors have horror stories about getting upside down on 941 forms due to bookkeeper incompetence or larceny. Picking up the mail yourself may not prevent this type of fraud, but it will help you catch on earlier.
2. Use Photo Releases
Do you ever take pictures of your customers for your website, newsletter, or other purpose? Unless you get them to sign a modeling release, you could be liable for using their images. It may not seem likely, but why take the risk? A quick pocket release signed by the customer in exchange for a dollar addresses the issue. Most people are not offended when you ask them to sign a release and hand them a dollar. Most people are amused.
3. Credit Check Any Hire Who Will Handle Money
Contractors have gotten pretty good about running criminal background checks on technicians (especially in states that require it). It takes little extra effort to add a credit check. A history of credit problems should be a red flag in the hiring process. People who handle cash and credit cards who have a history of problems paying their bills are at higher risk for fraud. Maybe they can explain hard times to your satisfaction, but you owe it to your customers and yourself to have the discussion.
4. Approved Vendor List
Create an approved vendor list and require any purchases from a vendor not on the approved list to be run by you before payment. Scrutinize carefully.
5. Use a Plagiarism Checker
Sadly, our industry is ripe with plagiarism. Utilizing material plagiarized from others can put your company at legal risk. Moreover, when producing newsletters or marketing material, even your own employees might be tempted grab copy off the Internet. Make it a practice to randomly spot check copy with a search engine or free plagiarism checker.
6. Be Careful About Photo Copyrights
Any photos or clip art on your website should be images taken or created by you or your staff. Otherwise, you should either purchase the right to use the image or use royalty free images with proper citations. It’s easy to slip up and accidentally use an image owned by one of the big services. These services deploy spiders to crawl the web and find unauthorized usage of their images, which can be costly.
7. Sweep Your Cash
Define how much cash you need in your operating checking account. Whenever that number is exceeded, instruct your bank to automatically sweep the excess into a separate interest bearing account. This will ensure you have enough to operate your company and build cash reserves.
8. Install GPS Tracking
Moonlighting will always be a problem in the air conditioning industry. Reduce the odds and liability of moonlighting with company vehicles by installing GPS tracking in each truck. In addition to the discouragement of moonlighting, GPS offers productivity benefits, safety benefits, and a documented record of vehicle location and times should it become necessary for disputes with customers, the wage and hour board, and so on.
9. Make Happy Calls
Another good business practice that will help prevent moonlighting, or at least reveal it, is making happy calls following every dispatch. Call customers whether work was performed or not and whether the customer was home or not. One of the oldest moonlighting tricks is to turn a company call into a no money call or diagnostic only call, but to return later and perform work off the books at a discount to the homeowner. If this occurs in your company, happy calls will eventually reveal it.
10. Trust Your Gut
There are times when you know something is not right. You feel it. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but you cannot escape the feeling that something is off. Or, you may have a funny feeling about hiring someone. The candidate may look good on paper and sound good in person, but something bothers you. This is your gut feeling issuing a warning. Trust it. Your gut feeling is really your subconscious, which has assembled data in bits and pieces that your conscious mind has missed or hasn’t properly assembled. Trust it.
11. Use Women in Your Hiring Process
There’s an “ick” factor that some men give to women. Guys are generally unable to recognize it. Women can. Your technicians will be calling on lots of women who will be home alone during the service call. Use women in your office to interview candidates for field service to see if they are likely to make your customers uncomfortable.
12. Join a Buying Group
There are several industry buying groups. The contractors in these groups pay less than you do for the same things you buy for your business. Join one of the buying groups and pay less yourself. Why pay more?
For information on Roundtable Rewards, HVAC’s largest contractor buying group, call 877.262.3341 or visit www.ServiceRoundtable.com.