Well organized and intricately prepared, The New Flat Rate staff welcomed nearly 40 percent more attendees than last year to its second annual Business Uncensored conference. On the southeast side of the Tennessee River, contractors arrived at The Westin Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and were greeted with balloon arches and star treatment at an evening reception. It was a time to unwind from travel and engage New Flat Rate veterans and newcomers alike.
The first official day of the conference brought Rodney Koop to the stage with flashing lights and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild”. Koop, CEO and founder of The New Flat Rate challenged those in attendance to ‘get their motor runnin’. His opening session took a hard look at the difference between entrepreneur and business man adding a touch of humor to help the message get through.
“If you are a true entrepreneur you are never afraid to write a check, money or no money,” he laughed. Then in a serious fashion said, “When you try to give an entrepreneur a business plan, it’s going to fail over 90 percent of the time, and it always fails for the same reason — money.”
According to Rodney Koop, the two things that contractors need to be successful are consistent money and effective marketing. He explained that consistent money can be made using The New Flat Rate system, but a willingness to change a business until it is something that the owner absolutely loves is necessary in order for the program to achieve maximum effectiveness.
“If you don’t like something in your business, change it,” he said. “Change it until you’re 100 percent satisfied. Don’t just like your business, love it. I want you and your business to get to the point where every day you just want to take it out on the road and do something with it.”
Returning to the subject of money, Rodney Koop continued with stories of new boats, cars, and family trips when he had turned a profit in his early years.
“When I had cash I spent,” he said. “Most entrepreneurs are spend freaks and I had to learn not to spend money.”
The difficulty in saving money is not what he called a lack of discipline, but instead he explained that owning things can make a person feel successful.
“Having money and a profitable company is about maturity and learning to control spending,” said Rodney Koop. “Cash in the bank is your working account, cash in savings is your profit, and cash in debt is a ticking time bomb.”
In total there were 12 sessions to attend and they were packed with people and information. Speakers included Danielle Putnam, president, The New Flat Rate; Matt Koop, vice president of The New Flat Rate; Melody Chaney, creative director of The New Flat Rate; and David Holt, director of Business Training and Coaching, National Comfort Institute Inc. Each speaker took a deep dive on topics such as refueling the customer base; increasing service tickets; reliable customer bases; profit circles; organic traffic and leads; slow season solutions; hire, fire, and retain; craftsmanship; Freedom Builders University; profit talk; managing cash flow; and the future of in-home services. (See sidebar for select takeaways.)
In her session on managing cash flow, Putnam discussed growth, money, and when it is time to spend. She explained that by its nature, growth sucks cash from a business and that money management has a steep learning curve.
“When can you spend your money? You're working hard to put money in the bank? When is it okay to spend your money?” she asked. “The feast and famine contractor doesn't know if he'll ever have the money again and so he feels like he has to spend that money. This money is way too exciting, unpredictable, and burning a hole in your pocket.”
According to an informal survey of attendees, 62 percent said they don’t have enough money, 23 percent admit they need better money management, and 54 percent are stressed out about money. It was here that Putnam began to break down money management principles that have shown positive results for the countless companies she has coached.
“Sales minus profit equals expenses; it is that easy,” she said. “We have to take the profit out first otherwise we never have it. If we don’t take the profit out first then the money’s gone, it gets sucked into the operating budget, and then we spend too much on operating.”
Matt Koop led multiple sessions, including one that involved a look at the future of in-home-services. It was the final session of the program, but it carried a note of caution for those who are change averse.
“Unfortunately, we've pretty much always said that the contracting industry as a whole has consistently been 20 to 30 years behind the rest of the business world,” said Matt Koop. “Up until the Internet, there was no need for a contractor to change. People had to call you. They weren’t able to buy the parts before Home Depot started selling them; and because none of the suppliers would sell it to customers directly, you were all protected.”
It’s not like that anymore, he said and then outlined where new competition is coming from that many contractors don’t yet have on their radar.
“The three largest competitors today are Amazon Home Services, Frontdoor, and Google Local Services guaranteed service providers,” said Matt Koop. “These three own your customer.”
According to him, Amazon Home Services controls 49 percent of all internet fund transfers in the U.S. and 43 percent of the world’s internet fund transfers. Combined with the idea that purchases are often influenced by familiarity, the fact that 75 percent of Americans have active Amazon accounts sets this company up to eat a significant hole into a contractor’s customer base.
Matt Koop then used the example of UPS and FedEx to reveal the full issue. Amazon needed shipping services for its customers. The two shipping companies didn’t like the terms and decided not to carry Amazon packages anymore. Amazon still had a need and put 20,000 Sprinter vans on the road and in essence began its own shipping company to meet that need.
“If you won’t play nice [with companies like these], they will acquire your assets,” he said. “In other words, they can go buy trucks and buy your techs all because somebody didn’t want to play the game. So, they said fine, we’ll replace it.”
Continuing through other examples, Matt Koop told his audience that the warning was not to scare them, but to let them know the amount of change that has occurred in the last decade and how that affects them.
“In the last decade, you went from being the expert that nobody questioned, to you're the professional that has the skill, to now there's the possibility of somebody acquiring it all.”
At the end of each session, attendees were given time to fill out yellow action sheets and network with peers at the conference. The contractors that took the time to fill out these sheets were then able to take them home and work through or apply the nugget of information they found best fit their business during a session. When asked about the yellow take away sheets, multiple attendees pointed out that these types of conferences are beneficial, but it is often like trying to drink from a fire hose. The yellow sheets made the information manageable, more like a garden hose.
Break times were also provided where the hospitality of the south was displayed as attendees enjoyed snacks, fresh baked cookies, coffee, and sweet tea. Meals were provided at breakfast and lunch during the conference as well. It gave attendees increased networking time as well as time to spend discussing the ups and downs of their businesses and some of the finer points of their golf games.
Sponsors helped make Business Uncensored possible this year. They included Service Roundtable, Jackson Systems, Aeroseal, Customer Lobby, National Comfort Institute, Online Access, To Your Success, Rotobrush, Power Selling Pros, and Service Fusion. Each sponsor had a display inside the conference room for attendees to interact with and learn about the different services and products that were available.
After the first full day of sessions, Service Roundtable hosted attendees on the Southern Belle Riverboat for dinner. Matt Michel, CEO of Service Roundtable was on hand for the conference and festivities. Before dinner, participants were chartered to the dock in WWII authentic duck boats. After dinner, many took a bevy of eclectic photos in the photo booth while other spent time on the deck enjoying the Tennessee River.
TAKEAWAYS FROM BUSINESS UNCENSORED SESSIONS
1. Managing Cash Flow — Danielle Putnam
There are only two numbers that contractors need to know and watch. One is the cost of doing business — overhead plus expenses. The second is how much money did the business make today? It needs to at least break even every day.
2. Organic Traffic and Leads — Melodey Chaney
Increasing organic traffic and leads has to be purposely addressed. It doesn’t just happen. Knowing what people are searching for can help contractors put that information on their websites and possibly increase traffic.
3. Slow Season Solutions — Rodney Koop
From soda fountains at the pharmacy to the Freestyle touchscreen soda dispenser, Coca-Cola has changed its business over the years. What have you done to change? Slow times are great times to consider an add-on business to keep employees working and the doors open.
4. Hire, Fire, & Retain — Matt Koop
Contractors should ask themselves three questions before firing an employee. Did I do my part? Are they trying at all? Am I being held hostage? If the answer to the third one is a yes, then it is time to let that employee go.
5. Craftsmanship — David Holt
When contractors understand their craft, they can do things more effectively. A craftsman focuses on safety, health, and efficiency for their customers. A tradesman simply gets paid to do a job in the trade.
6. Profit Talk — Rodney Koop
Record your successes. It’s not about being a contractor, it’s about being a human being and working through your bad habits. What’s one thing you can fix? Do that. Then do the next thing.
7. Reliable Customer Base — Matt Koop
It is impossible to work for everybody. We don’t need every customer, we need the right customer. Contractors can have a profitable business on the books and still go bankrupt. They need cash flow. They need customers.