Al Levi | Blog - Contractor Process Development & SOPs

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Two Roles You Can Never Leave as an Owner

“I fired all of them,” said the Canada-based condominium developer I was helping to optimize his business. “Wow,” I said. “What happened?”

The developer continued. “You said you wouldn’t work through a bunch of layers, and so I fired all my vice presidents. And you know what I found out? They were keeping things from me. If I hadn’t done that, my business would have been out of working capital within six months. Now you just have to help me navigate out of this.”

I told him in a nice but direct way, “I blame you… not them. It was your job to know for yourself what was and wasn’t happening at your company, and we’re going to fix that starting with getting you to a much better designed Box Org Chart.”

And we went on to do just that.

Unfortunately, this is a story I’ve heard all too many times over nearly 20 years of 1-to-1 consulting with contracting clients. The owner would delegate responsibility for their financial position to someone only to discover all kinds of impropriety once that person went on vacation, departed — or the bank or creditors started calling!

The Financial Manager role is one of two roles you can never give up. The other is Marketing Manager.

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How to Get Your Life Back and Have the Business You Want

“I just wish my Dad was around more,” said my daughter Pam to her 7th grade teacher. When my wife, Natalie, heard this during a parent conference she said, “My husband is the only dad in the back of the room doing things like videoing her shows and recitals.”

But when Natalie told me what Pam had said, I thought to myself, “Ouch.” The reason is, I had thought by being at every dance recital with my big camcorder was enough. My daughter saw through me though. The problem was I was there in body, but my mind was on work, specifically my family’s plumbing, heating, cooling and now electrical contracting business. The video camera caught what was going on, but if you’d have asked me the details after the show, I couldn’t have told you. I was too busy thinking about the disgruntled customer I had just come from and that I needed to call back or go see after the show was over.

Vacations? Forget it. My wife and I would go someplace nice and my cell phone would ring again and again. It was not relaxing. And then there was the big backlog of work that would take me a week to get through once we got back.

One day, the stuff hit the fan. The chaos I was accepting day after day was hurting me and everyone around me. I had to get my life back. I needed to put systems and processes into place at my company that would allow my staff to handle more on their own (the way I would do it). Also, I wanted to be able to delegate responsibilities to others in a way where stuff actually gets done and doesn’t boomerang and land back on my plate.

So I went home and made my wife, Natalie, a promise. I said, “For the next two years, I will be around even less than I am now and you deserve to know why…”

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I Don’t Like Millennials… I Love Them and So Should You

Tommy, one of the techs at my contracting company, poked his head into my office after his last call of the day. It was after 7 p.m., which is about two hours later than he would have liked to finish. He said, “That last job took forever. These kids today have no work ethic and ask a million questions. I wish they would just put their head down and do the work.”

I smiled a little and replied, “You know, Tommy, when you first started all the experienced Techs that worked here said the same thing about you.” “Haha, very funny,” was his reply. I went on to tell him that if he thought the Technicians he worked with needed additional training to let me know. But otherwise, try to have a little patience. After all, to get as good as he was took years of practice.

Tommy and I had this conversation in the 1990s, but if you replaced the word “kids” with “millennials” or “gen x” it would be just as relevant today.

The truth is that the bad rap younger generations get is based on a myth, which if not overcome will harm your business because you’ll be missing out on some of the best employees you may ever have.

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Does Everyone Get to Stay Your Customer?… NO!

“I’m sorry, Mr. Jones… I think, given the circumstances, another company could serve you better,” I said calmly, even though I was actually pretty ticked off at the way he had spoken to my best CSR, my Dispatcher and my most experienced Tech. I invited him again to go hire (and likely abuse) my competition.

Why not just take his money? Because Mr. Jones was not my customer. He was among the five percent of customers who were causing 90 percent of our problems and we were on a mission to move them out. And he was destroying our company’s culture and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

After all, I had always told my staff, “You’re my #1 customer and I know that how I treat you is how I hope you’ll treat our customers. So, know that my family is committing to treating you with the respect you deserve.”

Well, if I meant it… and I did… there comes a time I had to fire a customer to prove that I’d be willing to put my money where my mouth was and stick up for the team.

Here are four customer behaviors and one situation you shouldn’t tolerate and how you can handle them.

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Finally, All the Great Techs You Ever Wanted

It was 2 a.m. and I was standing in my office at our family’s plumbing, heating, cooling and now electrical business on Long Island talking to my brother, Richie. In a company of more than 25 Techs, we—the owners—were the ones still there, working late into the night—I mean morning—to fix some issues other people had created.

Richie said, “That guy was the best Tech at their shop? Really? He’s barely mediocre compared to our guys. And can you believe how much money we had to overpay him to come work here?”

To which I replied, in an exhausted and aggravated tone, “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of Techs telling us how great they are in interviews when we hire them or taking the word of others about how great this Tech is.”

It was very frustrating and it went on for years! The good news is we were eventually able to solve it and I’m about to tell you how you can, too.

To fix this problem once and for all you’ll need to learn and implement the five main components of Staffing Power:

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Employee Feedback Done Right

I call them “staffing surprises” and they’re rarely pleasant surprises. You know what I’m talking about. I call it the, “5 o’clock knock.”

Sometimes, it’s where an employee shows up at your doorstep, usually during your busiest time, and asks for more money or special exceptions for them on company policies. And sometimes, it’s actually to dish the dirt about other employees by sharing the whispering that’s going on at the water cooler, the breakroom or parking lot (or more likely these days over text or social media).

This is usually about who is upset about what, how, or who. None of it is good for your business and frankly, it’s not good for your employees, either.

The good news is there are steps you can take to avoid being blindsided by employee dissatisfaction. To keep staff engaged and ultimately from leaving our company, I learned late (unfortunately late) in the game to make the time to walk around and ask them proactively at least once a week the following three questions…

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New Practices for Covid-19

There’s an ancient proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

I know many of you have taken steps to put additional systems and processes in place to keep customers and employees safe in the midst of this pandemic. Kudos to you.

Haven’t done much of anything or still scrambling?

What you need to know is it is not too late! The need for additional systems and processes around this virus (or heaven forbid, future virus pandemics) is not going away anytime soon. It’s going to be some time before everyone is vaccinated and even then, there will be some people that may not be able to receive those vaccinations—and those people will need your services, too.

Here are some helpful protocols you could put into place fairly quickly to make customers and staff alike safer.

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Marketing Needs Great Testimonials

It’s not that potential customers don’t trust what you’re saying about yourself in your marketing. It’s just that… they don’t!

That’s because they figure you’re just saying what you’re saying to sell them something. You do want to sell them something, and that’s OK because you’re typically there because they have a problem or a need they want addressed. The thing is, the saying “Perception is reality!” holds true here.

They need to trust you first, and to do that they need more than the words you’re saying.

Think about it. When you go shopping for a car or need some kind of work or service at your home or office for something you don’t do, don’t you ask your friends, family members if they know someone good?

We’d rather not be a guinea pig, or worse, be taken advantage of!

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Fleet Management Done Right

Would you drive your personal vehicle 100,000 miles and never do an oil change? Ignore the flashing red engine light on your dashboard hoping it will go away? Continue to drive it after you dropped the front wheel into a deep pothole at 70 mph?

Of course not!

You would take steps to maintain and fix the vehicle as soon as possible. That’s because you are the manager of your personal fleet of one, two, three (or more) vehicles and you know waiting will only end up costing you more in the end.

When it comes to the fleet for your contracting business, however, the consequences of not being proactive has yet another layer of risk and a huge financial impact. That’s because each one of your trucks is a rolling cash register and every time one of your trucks goes out of service, your ability to generate revenue for your business goes with it. To avoid this, you need someone acting as the Fleet Manager. Someone has to have the job to make sure those trucks not only stay on the road but also are utilized properly by the Technicians who are operating them.

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The Goal Writing is on the Wall

By the time you read this, most people’s New Year’s resolutions (aka goals) will be a distant memory and they’ll be back to doing the same things they said they were or weren’t going to do (lose weight, make more money, work fewer hours). Maybe you even have a few. Here’s the thing: Setting goals is easy. It’s the follow through on the plan of action that will create the change you want that’s the tough part. A famous author once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

That said, there’s a process for energizing goals properly, and the first step is to put the goal (or goals) in writing. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how much push back I’ve gotten on this one over the years. The reason is because if you never put the goal in writing, you don’t have to be wrong or miss. You can always be perfect in your mind because there’s nothing tangible to remind you of what you said you wanted. You don’t have to confront failure or any of the other negative messages in your head that say you didn’t deserve it anyway.

Here’s the thing: A goal is just a destination. The plan you create to get to your goal is your map or GPS. That’s it. You will inevitably learn new things along the way, and that may cause you to adjust the goal or the plan to get it. Even if you fall short, you’ll almost certainly be better off than if you hadn’t tried. As I told one client who was stressing over this, there’s no “goal police.” The sole purpose of a goal is to give you something tangible to shoot for.

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