By Diane M. Calabrese / Published December 2015
Resolve is what it takes to get things done. Among the resolute, determination does not waver with the vagaries of the economy or the whims of nature. It carries the day 24/7/365.
Of course, there’s something about the approach of a new year that renews a sense of purpose. As part of renewal, we look backward and forward, as the mythological Janus did, to prepare.
That preparation often begins with a recalibration of the business plan. “Each new year is started with a reflection on the previous year,” says Joe Battles, chief financial officer at Etowah Chemical Sales and Service in Gadsden, AL. “We review the financials—high, low, or meets expectations. We look for ways to grow. . .We consider which assets need to be purchased or retired.”
Looking for ways to grow means considering the configuration of an individual branch or department, explains Battles, whose company operates with many satellites (branches at different locations). The entire assessment is geared to sustaining growth.
“We have started a new analysis of our branches to measure profitability, sustainability, and efficiency,” says Battles. “It is still a work in progress.” The type of analysis that is underway goes beyond looking at overall sales, something that is not difficult to measure.
“How does each branch operate?” says Battles. “Is it efficient? Can its processes be carried over to another branch? What are the best practices in the company branch by branch? These are questions we are continually trying to answer, and for 2016, we have modified our reporting to help answer those questions.”
As with the process Battles describes, context is everything. A meaningful evaluation builds on what has come before and with good reason.
There is a great deal written about risk taking in business. (Risk takers are even celebrated, when they succeed.) Yet established companies do not undertake new ventures without looking at them in the context of the whole of their operation.
In large part, then, preparing for 2016 involves beginning with the basics of good business. “Any new projects or plans will come out of our regular planning and budget process,” says Jeffrey Paulding, president of Dirt Killer Pressure Washers, Inc. in Baltimore, MD.
“Each year we prepare a business plan for the upcoming year, as well as a budget that supports the plan,” explains Paulding. “After we agree on a plan, we discuss and agree upon goals for each employee.”
As for the supporting budget, it is developed in two parts, says Paulding. “One part is the routine expenses that are pretty stable from year to year. The second part is those expenses associated with specific projects.”
The new projects can take many forms, explains Paulding. He gives as examples a new website or trade shows that members of the team will attend. All of the projects have one thing in common. They are based upon specific objectives in the business plan.
It’s not just the new that’s in focus. “We always review our inventory to see if we are carrying obsolete or unwanted items,” says Paulding. “Those items are then written down or off.”
As Paulding and Battles explain, the planning process is an integral part of doing business. The essentials of business, the business plan and business planning, have not changed.
In reality, there’s a risk attached to any decision that is made, even with the most exacting planning. It’s the variables beyond our control that make nothing a 100 percent certainty. Planning carefully is really a way to minimize risk or make it negligible—not eliminate it.
Every manufacturer, distributor, and contractor reading this sentence will decide to do something in 2016. There are three options: Do it the same. Do it better (differently). Do away with it. Deciding what action to take—and mitigating risk—begins with good planning.
For Ken Fenner, owner of Pressure-Pros, Inc. in Havertown, PA, a shift in marketing practices is in the offing. “Our biggest change for 2016 will be in the way we market our company’s services,” he explains. “We have shifted our focus into getting more aggressive with social media and the Web in general,” says Fenner. “In years past, our company had little competition and a dominant Web presence.”
With things going well, it’s easy to get so busy that one forgets to look ahead. (That’s another reason the event of one year turning over to another affords a good reminder to consider the future, especially what’s changed or is changing.)
“It’s easy to get complacent and that can really come back to haunt you,” says Fenner. “People want to do business with modern companies that have mobile-friendly websites and strong reviews on sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp. They want to see your company’s page on Facebook.”
Put the digital media connection in context, too. “Word of mouth is still the king of lead generation,” says Fenner. “Social media are the digitized version of it. Once they find your company, you will need to make it easy for them to make contact. That is where a clean and responsive mobile-friendly website comes into play.”
Tips for Contractors
Contributor: Bill Fischer, Vice President of Industrial Sales, The FNA Group, Pleasant Prairie, WI
As the economy and markets become more volatile, we have been spending time planning with, and supporting our dealers and distributors with programs that help them sell and service their products. We always spend a lot of time analyzing economic and weather-related data to provide our customers with the information they need to make good decisions about their inventory and local opportunities going forward.
What should pressure washer contractors do now to prepare for 2016? Contractors can be best served starting a new year by analyzing their customer base from the year before. They should be asking and answering these questions:
• Who are our best customers? Why? Who are our worst customers? Why? What’s the difference?
• How does my business change if we drop our worst customers and focus on our best customers?
• What categories of cleaning are we good at, and what other categories are similar that we can enter?
• How was our business development program? What did we do well? What could we do better?
• How is our telephone and e-mail database? Are we reaching out to the right people at the right companies? How can we develop a better list?
The new emphasis in marketing through an online presence represents an outcome of the sort of preparation for a new year that Fenner’s company has always undertaken. Year in and year out there are some things that must be done, he says.
“It is important to analyze your lead generation, your job efficiency, and your profits,” says Fenner. “Those things make up the trifecta of success in any service-providing company. After 14 years in business, we have made the equipment purchases and training modifications necessary to run efficient jobs.”
Efficiency and great service or efficiency and superb products will only take a business to the starting line. A business without customers is going nowhere. For that reason, it’s almost impossible to give marketing too much attention. “The one thing I do prior to the start of the busy season is to have the right advertising and marketing in place to keep my crews busy throughout the entire season,” says Fenner.
“It has always been better for me to be proactive as opposed to reactive,” says Fenner. “The last thing I want to worry about is the sun shining and wondering why my company does not have enough work to stay busy.”
Fine-tuned metrics on company performance and sophisticated online marketing are tools that companies are universally adopting. Naturally, they figure prominently in efforts to prepare for 2016, a year that may be especially volatile given uncertainties over monetary policy and political passions of a presidential election.
Being prepared will matter more than ever. So will the fundamentals. Equipment must perform as promised. Items must be delivered when expected. Service must be dependable and fast. And employees that meet customers in the real world—or the virtual one—must be professional.
There’s a variant of a question that every manufacturer, distributor, and contractor who is ready for 2016 should be able to answer affirmatively: Would I put our company’s name on it? Whether it’s a pressure washer, a serviced-by sticker, or a jobsite, the company that is completely at ease being visibly linked is truly ready for the future.
Happy New Year!