Al Levi | Blog - Contractor Process Development & SOPs

Al Writes

If I Gave You a $100,000 – What Should You Do?

Let’s say I gave you $100,000 to grow your business. You go to dinner to celebrate your great windfall and then the next morning you’re at your desk, admiring the check.

Here’s my question: Would you know what to do with it, first, second, and third for the greatest impact? $100,000 sounds like a lot of money especially if you’re the typical contracting company which is at $2 million a year or less, and sometimes way less. But it’s also an amount that can disappear remarkably quickly unless you have a plan and use the money to execute that plan.

The other thing I know is that some problems aren’t really money problems. The problem is some people would only have fallen deeper down the hole if they had gotten a hundred thousand dollars.

Why?

They were lacking Planning Power, which means a plan on which projects to work on. They didn’t have systems like Operating Power (today it’s my Signature Operating Manuals System program) so they threw people at the problem hoping they’d magically make everything work right.

If I did give you 100,000 dollars, you would need systems to help you know how to spend money on the right things in the right way.

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Harder to Get Great or to Stay Great?

The original location of my family’s plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical company was in Rockaway, Queens. My dad, Irving, and my uncle, Morty, started it out of my grandfather’s gas station.

When my two older brothers and I showed up full-time in the business, it was in the 1970s, and crime in the area was rampant. Why did we stay there so long? Inertia.

Well, the decision to move came down and my brothers and I knew we had one chance to get this right, and so when we finally found a place that would be more centrally located to where our client base had moved from the wreckage of where we had been. We also heeded the great advice from our industry guru and great friend, Dan Holohan, when he suggested we use our building to showcase what we do and make it a destination other companies wanted to visit.

The place was spotless and bright and the envy of the industry. I stood in the doorway with Dan admiring our great work when he said, “Al, remember it’s easy to be great one day. The trick is to continue to stay great, day after day.”

Ouch!

What Dan meant was that I had to make maintaining that high standard a priority or it would deteriorate over time. And if it did, I’d have to have a way to get myself back on track, and that way for me was leveraging my systems and checklists. I’ve always remembered this conversation and have seen it play out over and over with my clients during the past 20 years.

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Mastering the Dispatcher Role from Beginning to End

One of the questions I get asked all the time by clients and customers is, “Why can’t my CSR also be the Dispatcher?”

Answer: They can and often do especially if you’re a small company. But if I ask more questions, usually I discover they’re struggling to be really good with one or the other. Maybe even struggling just to be okay.

The reason for this is that being a customer service rep and being able to do dispatching are two totally different skills sets, and the best people to fill each of those roles have different personalities. In fact, every time I’ve separated the CSR and Dispatcher roles, clients always report there is more money and more profit coming in.

Why is that?

Here’s why…

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Systems Freed Me Up to Help My Daughter

Every winter, my daughter, Pam, her husband and my grand dogs come to visit my wife and me in Phoenix. Now I’d like to think it’s because she misses us… and… she does, but it does help that she lives on the east coast where it gets just a LITTLE colder than here.

While she and her husband are RVing across the great USA (she wasn’t new to the club as she’s been RVing for years now), they still have to work. Her work is at a summer camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. For those who don’t live in the northeast, there are summer camps that kids go to for 7 weeks! That’s right 7 weeks!

So, when I say to people when they ask what she does and I tell them she’s a camp director at a summer camp, the next thing they ask is, “What does she do the rest of the year?” I reply, “She works full time, and she has navigated the globe to find staff.”

Hmmm… finding staff… sound familiar to you?

Anyway, when she was here in January 2021, she was working from my home and said that she’s never had so much of a problem recruiting and hiring people like college kids, staff for the kitchen, people for the pool and lake and more.

My wife, Natalie, Pam and her husband were at the dinner table one night, and she looked at us across the table and said solemnly: “If I call you, will you come and help?” To which I said, “You want me to come and be a camp counselor again for the first time in 50 years?” She replied, “Yes… Possibly.”

Two weeks into the start of camp, I hadn’t heard anything from Pam, that is until I got “the” phone call. It was Pam. She said, “I don’t want your advice. I don’t want your opinion. I want you on an airplane to come here to help me and I need you… now.”

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Will They All Quit if You Put in Operating Manuals?

Will they all quit if you put in Operating Manuals?

The short answer is, “No!”

The reason I say that is I did it at my own plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical company decades ago. We were a NYC Union shop and, we didn’t lose anyone.

And I know this is a fear of some contractors as I have done so many free 30-minute calls with prospective clients who would share this fear with me. To help, I’d share this following story.

One of my many different jobs at my very busy shop was being the Install Manager where I was running five Install Crews a day. Each morning, I’d setup the job files and debrief each Lead Installer on what to expect and let them know I’d make the rounds to check in on how things were going.

One day…

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5 Signs Your Business is Growing Too Fast

Can a contracting business really grow too fast? You bet it can.

I remember waking up at 6 a.m. for the second day in a row after working until 2 a.m. the night before at my family’s 70-person plumbing, heating, cooling and now electrical company only to face another day of massive stress and thinking, “At this growth pace, something’s got to change, or I’ll be a rich dead guy.”

That was not my goal and I bet it’s not yours either!

You were handling it—somehow—until you one day you just couldn’t and that’s when the wheels started to fall off or at the very least began to wobble. It’s like you’re in a batting cage and the pitches you used to be able to hit are now coming so fast you can’t even get the bat off your shoulder. That’s how it feels when you’re growing out of control and can’t keep up anymore. Sound familiar?

Here are five clear signs your business is growing too fast and you need to act—now.

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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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