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8 Root Canals of Contracting

Business owners must endure the 'pain' that comes with facing business problems. Solve the problem, lose the pain!

Most people dislike visiting the dentist for more than a cleaning. When a tooth hurts, the tendency is to suck it up and hope it goes away. If a root canal is necessary, most will wait until the pain is so intense that enduring the unpleasant procedure is worth it to feel better on the other side. In contracting, we have our own root canals. Here are eight.

1. The Budgeting & Planning Root Canal
Few contractors enjoy budgeting and planning.  Most look forward to it like they look forward to a root canal. Success planning involves projecting sales and marketing, identifying headcount requirements, determining training requirements, projecting equipment needs and material usage, balancing cash inflows and outflows, and so on. Once in place, a success plan becomes a roadmap to help navigate the coming year. No plan survives contact with the marketplace, which is why success plans should be dynamic to defend against unanticipated threats and to exploit unexpected opportunities.

The difference between having a success plan and winging it is like the difference between having a trail map with a specific destination in mind and setting out for a stroll at random.  With the trail map, you stay on course and know how much more you need to push to achieve your objective. Random strolls may go in any direction and often follow paths of least resistance.  When things get a little tough and there is no objective, the tendency is to turn around and head back where you came from.

Fortunately, there are proven planning systems that make success planning less imposing and easier to execute. Over time, the use of a planning system and observing the results can even make budgeting and planning somewhat enjoyable. This is especially true when contractors learn how to listen to their numbers to track results and guide future direction.

2. The Termination Root Canal
Most people hate terminations as much as they hate a root canal. This is especially true when terminations are infrequent, involve a long-time member of the team, or require terminating someone close, such as a family member.  As a result, contractors often delay terminations hoping against hope for a turnaround. When the pain to the business becomes excessive enough, the contractor finally acts.

Once made, the termination is not only a relief to the contractor, but to everyone in the company, including the terminated employee.  It seems everyone knew it was coming, but only the contractor pretended otherwise. Like the day after getting a root canal, the day after a termination is so pain free that the contractor wonders why he didn’t act sooner.

Only a sick person enjoys terminating an employee. This should never be a pleasant experience. Yet, it is a necessary one. What every business owner should recognize is delaying a termination is crueler than acting. It’s preventing a bad fit from finding a better fit elsewhere. It’s taxing other members of the team who usually realize someone is destined for separation before the boss figures it out.

There’s a point where a small voice says this individual is not working out and not going to work out. Don’t deny the voice. Listen to it and get the root canal out of the way.

3. The Recruiting Root Canal
Welcoming a new member of the team on board is a joy. The process to get this point is not. It involves recruiting, sorting through resumes and/or applications, scheduling interviews, putting up with no shows, dealing with the testing process, negotiating compensation, performing due diligence on the prospect (checking references, credit checks, background checks, and so on).  Then, when all is said and done, some people never even show up for the first day.

Of course, a company cannot grow if it cannot add new personnel. And, adding someone who strengthens the team and enhances the capabilities of the company makes all of the recruiting pain worth it.

Some contractors grow to actually enjoy (or at least tolerate) the recruiting process by incorporating it into their everyday activities.  Not only do they recruit continuously, they have onboarding and training processes that allow them to hire on attitude and develop the rest. Because they have a pipeline that’s continually being filled, they can more easily accept and move past hiring mistakes.

4. The Software Root Canal
Every contracting business of any size runs on software. Software controls the books, the scheduling and dispatching, and the customer records. Installing a software system, especially if it is a replacement for an existing one, is more painful than a root canal and takes far longer.  Yet, this can be the springboard to growth.

A software implementation is expensive.  It takes planning.  It takes training.  It takes a conversion of existing data.  Inevitably, there will be problems.  Since software implementation is not an area familiar to contractors, problems are not always well understood. Hence, they seem magnified in importance and dire consequences.  They are normal.  All of them can be worked through. 

What software cannot overcome is people who fight it. Software depends on processes. Contractors much change or adapt their processes for to be consistent with the process required by the software or the implementation will fail. Fighting the software is like fighting the dentist during a root canal. The results are likely to be disastrous and far more painful.

Once a successful implementation is complete, contractors wonder how they ever operated without the software. It makes business easier and more streamlined.

5. The Management Root Canal
Contractors do not start as managers. They start as wrench turners. Their comfort level is working the tools in the field. Giving this up is not merely a root canal, it’s a threat to their entire notion of self-worth.  Yet, for a company to truly grow, the owner must stop working in the business and start working on it.

Management involves planning, organizing, and delegating. The delegation may be the hardest part for many contractors.  Delegation means giving up control.  Instead of viewing delegation as giving up control, which contractors anticipate like a root canal, it should be viewed as freeing up time.  The time can be spent on areas of greater need that requires an owner’s attention.  It can be devoted to working on the business to leap forward.

6. The Upset Customer Root Canal
Every so often, an upset customer must be addressed. In today’s review centric, transparency society upset customers must be handled with care, even when the customer is wrong or worse, unethical.  Some customers will try to take advantage of a service business and use the threat of reviews or complaints to the government as the means to get what they want.  Dealing with these customers can feel a lot like a root canal, because you feel helpless while getting drilled upon.  Sustaining a dispute is a losing prospect.  Who will others believe:  you are the helpless consumer?

Fortunately, many customer problems turn out to be misunderstandings as much as anything. Instead of a root canal, they are mere cavities that can be filled in and polished over with a little TLC and understanding. Only if ignored will they turn into something more serious. 

Once the customer issues are resolved, not only are many less serious than anticipated, the unhappy customers often turn into some of the company’s best advocates. That really does feel good.

7. The Company Drama Root Canal
Whenever there are people, there is conflict and the potential for drama. As mostly technical people, contractors are generally uncomfortable dealing with interpersonal drama. Root canals are easier to figure out.  With root canals, there is pain.  It can be fixed.  It does away.

While drama issues might be an easy area to delegate, at times delegation is impossible. It must be addressed by the business owner and the solution cannot be to fire them all (though it might ultimately involve terminating a drama generator).

Addressing company drama means listening, and asking probing questions. It means going back and forth between people and hearing their concerns. Then, it requires interpersonal coaching. As painful as this is for most contractors, the outcome is a more harmonious team and greater productivity.

8. The Trust Root Canal
A challenging issue for many contractors is trusting others. Unless determined to remain small, it is incumbent on any business owner to trust others.  Business is just too complex. Owners have to trust CPAs, attorneys, manufacturer territory managers, and other professionals. To move ahead requires trusting the team. It requires trusting peers, who have already been there, done it, and have the t-shirts.

Any major business decision is likely to involve an element of trust. When a contractor joins a business alliance, it involves trust. When he follows the alliance’s recommendations, it involves trust.  When he buys software it involves trust.  When he follows the recommendations of peer contractors, it involves trust.

Trust means admitting need and vulnerability. Some of us struggle with that.  We would don’t like admitting that our tooth hurts enough to go to the dentist and we don’t like acknowledging that we do not know everything (or at least, everything about our businesses). But trusting others and following their advice means everything doesn’t have to be learned the hard way. Experimentation and trial and error is reduced.  The business moves faster.

Trusting means acceptance of the fact that sometimes trust leads to betrayals. Minimize this in important areas with reasonable controls (e.g., pick up and open the company mail, especially bank statements and government notices). As a rule, trusting others, like trusting your dentist means you will smile more often.

Want to grow your business?  Try the Service Roundtable for unlimited downloads of contractor specific sales, marketing, and business management tools.  It’s only $50 a month.  That’s not a root canal.  It’s more like flossing. 

 

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