You plan ahead for the year to come, as well you should. But have you crafted a statement that describes your vision for the company?
We spoke with three leading contractors, one of whom has since moved into consulting, to learn how they plan for a well-sustained future for their HVAC businesses.
The visionary planning by Sam Troyer, President, Comfort Zone, Inc., Cape Coral, Fla., is based on the model developed by another visionary, Michael E. Gerber, whose “E-Myth” books have revolutionized how entrepreneurs must approach running a business.
“The ultimate goal for any owner is to basically put processes and systems in place enough to basically work themselves out of a job,” Troyer said. “That starts with being able to step out of the field, to begin to concentrate on operations, planning, and generating business. Eventually it means having enough of those processes in place to be able to say, ‘Hey guys, I’m not going to come in for the next two weeks,’ and be confident that the people you have in place, the culture you have in place, and the processes you have in place are going to ensure that your clients are still taken care of, just as if you were there.”
But Troyer will not remain aloof. He knows the value of staying in touch with customers, employees and peers.
“Does that mean that I’m trying to build something where I don’t ever have to come into the office and just, collect a check at the end of the month, every month? No, that’s not the goal for me. I love dealing with my clients. I love interacting and talking with other contractors. I love talking to my employees and interacting with the things that they do day in and day out. I would love to get to the point where I can concentrate on doing just those things and have enough operational stuff in place to not worry about the other fires that pop up on a day to day basis.”
It is essential that an owner visualize the future of a business, says Travis Smith, president, Sky Heating and Air Conditioning, and Ductless Heroes, Portland, Ore.
“It includes having a proper organization chart drawn out for five years down the road, because if you want to do something, you need to visualize it, to see it. I call them ‘affirmations.’ A basic example is, ‘My company will do X revenue this year.’”
Smith’s multi-year vision statements include revenue targets, and the year that the company will hit or exceed a specific revenue plateau.
‘Four times the people means there will be opportunities for people to move up. Sharing that long term vision with employees is incredibly important, so they know there is room for advancement.’
“We’ve done that in the past, and we’ve hit our target. We want our employees to see that we’re growing. If we’re going to be almost four times our size in 10 years, that’s going to mean we will need four times the people. Four times the people means there will be opportunities for people to move up. Sharing that long term vision with employees is incredibly important, so they know there is room for advancement,” Smith says. However, short-term plans are also important, and must also be in writing.
“We write an 80-page business plan every single year, that includes the number of calls that we’re running per month. Then, we break that down as we approach the coming month, to the number of calls we’re running per day for service, what our average tickets are going to be, what our closing rates are going to be, and booking rates. Those numbers enable us to dive down and say, ‘If we’re at a 90% booking rate on 10,000 calls, we’re actually only going to have 9,000 service estimates. Of those 9,000 service estimates, 1,000 will be the diagnostic only, 8,000 will be an average ticket of X dollars. Of those 8,000, we’re going to turn over this percentage into sales. Of those we turn over to sales, this percentage will close at this average sale, giving us X amount of revenue. This enables us to see where we’re at, and make sure we’re on track.
“If all you do is say, ‘Okay, next month I want to do $100,000’ and you do $70,000, you will wonder where you fell short. Without having a specific service goal, a specific installation goal, and a specific sales call goal, you can’t really keep track. You just tell yourself you’re falling behind,” he says.
“If you know you need to run X number of estimates at an average sale figure, and your average sale’s high, but your number of estimates are low, you can dig down into your planning and see that you’re not running enough estimates, because of the estimates that we are running, we’re doing very well on.
“Conversely,” Smith continues, “if you’re not running enough estimates, maybe it’s because you’re not turning enough service calls into estimates, and now you need to look back at your service department and inquire about the condition of lead turnovers. Are we properly turning over leads that are at that age that are R-22 and they’re expensive repairs, or are we trying to hoard them for ourselves to keep the service revenue up? So business planning needs to really be much more advanced than just a basic dollar amount that you’re shooting for, for either a month or a year.”
“It’s not about the number of new customers as much as it’s about the number of calls you receive,” Smith says. “And of course, the least expensive way is to do that from your current database, because a call from your current database costs you next to nothing. It’s maybe a couple mailers a year, and if you can send mail at 35 cents, that means to get one of your existing customers to call you, it costs $1.20. Yet, to get a new customer to call you, it could easily be $75-$100, and then you’ve got to hope that you can book it.
“So, when looking at everything, new customers are definitely going to help you increase your business size and necessity to grow, but if you can grow organically through your current customer base and through referrals, that will always cost you less and make you more money.
Learn from a Living Legend
Larry Taylor’s vision propelled his Air Rite company to a place of prominence in the HVAC contracting world. Today, this HVAC Hall of Famer runs Taylor Coaching, offering business management advice to fellow contractors.
“I feel many small business owners have a problem with the confusion related around separating the core mission from the core vision of their companies. I also feel when founders are working on determining their mission and vision they have difficulty in obtaining help due to the many generational differences that are now in place. For example, my generation of Baby Boomers certainly had a different up bringing than more current generations, and as such, when offering help, it may be biased.”
Taylor says it takes time to craft mission statements or vision statements, and they should be based in part on advice from people from different generations, and successful contracting industry leaders.
“Over the years, I developed relationships with leaders in many different organizations: BBB, ACCA, RSES, Cowtown Executive Association, BOMA, Leadership Coaches, books, and more, and also included them in my drafting of mission and vision statements. The hardest part was for me to internalize this process and then to get it out of my mind and onto paper,” Taylor recalls.
“I wanted our vision statement to project our believes in how we would achieve our mission statement without having much if any technical detail in it but rather a more global description. Mainly, comments about career development of our team, our beliefs systems, our commitment to faith, families, team and customers.
“Being more involved in communities, industries and other organizations allows you to discuss this process with many others and even discuss with them how they accomplished creating theirs. If we try to accomplish this by ourselves it will most likely not accomplis what you want. Again these statements are too valuable to not take seriously. They are not just word on a paper, but should be the sole of your organization and referred to each time a decisions is made with the question, ‘Will this decision move us closer or farther away from our mission and vision?’ If you can do this you can build a great company and team while building a self-sustaining organization. These should also be of great help in hiring and retaining team members and customers,” Taylor advises.
“A group of key leaders and trusted advisors will give you the hard truth in establishing a company foundation. One of the worst things I see are quick mission and vision statements that tend to change every few years and tend to be too descriptive rather than global. This comes from the fact that a lot of small businesses are started with good intent, because of the technical skills of the individual. Because of this internal make-up they tend to make the statements too long and detailed,” Taylor says.