If you were lucky as a child, you had the experience of playing with LEGOs. I know there’s many a parent out there who had the unlucky experience of doing the LEGO dance in the middle of the night having stepped on one of their child’s lovingly misplaced blocks. Hours of building, inventing, creating, and followed by the ultimate joy of destroying and starting over again. Those tiny little blocks can also be a vivid representation of the steps and pain that a business owner can experience when starting or operating a business, no matter what the industry.
Everyone knows the basics of building is simple: First, you have to have a strong base. No project has ever been successful if you start out with just one or two small blocks at the bottom. Strong sturdy foundations coupled with being thorough in how well the blocks are put together help strengthen the overall structure of the project. The same is ideally true for when building a business.
There are more lessons to be learned from within the creative world of LEGOs that applies to the foundation which you build your business on. Let’s go over the L.E.G.O.S. of building a strong business.
L = Learning: First and foremost, you should know your business before you start one. Understanding your industry, its history, your market, and competitors is important when starting off. As one of the basic building blocks for any strong foundation, the more you learn the better prepared you are to weather the inevitable storms. Business management, licensing, even advanced schooling can all be a benefit in helping to start or grow your company. Be creative and think outside of the box. Never stop learning and growing. Be willing to seek advice and understand that failure happens but there is no shame in it. One of the biggest parts of learning to succeed is also learning how to accept failure for what it is: a chance to try again. Understand that no matter how good you think you may be at your job or industry there is someone out there who knows more. Mentors, business consultants, and even marketing advisors can all play pivotal roles in helping you establish a strong foundation for your company to grow off of. Allow the paths and pitfalls of others to help guide you. Because in the end, if you never stop seeking and learning, then you never stop growing. Complacency is the death for business.
E = Exception: You are probably not the only business of your type in your market area. In order to stand out from the rest of the pack and set yourself above your competition, you need to be the exception, not the rule. The contracting industry is known for a handful of negative expectations, such as technicians not showing up on time, not doing what they are supposed to, and uncourteous office staff, so always strive to be different. Show up when you say you will. Call if you are going to be late. Always answer the phone with a smile. Set your standards higher and be the exception even if it means spending a little extra money in the process. Take your time and care about your customers. Seek employees whom share your vision and whom want to be better than the rest. Put into place policies and procedures that help create superior customer service and a higher quality workmanship. Always strive for excellence and never settle for second best.
G = Growth: Growing a company, any company, can be extremely scary for most owners and managers. As the company expands and moves forward, opportunities for growth will present themselves and you have the choice to capitalize on the opportunity or let it pass you by. All growth opportunities are not created equal. Growth that happens too fast and too out of control could mean an early demise for a company. Taking on more work than you are fully capable of can lead to subpar quality. Not having sufficient processes in place to deal with growth can lead to inefficiency, slow billing and/collections, and lost revenue. Or bringing on extra staff in order to take care of the abundance of work, but then when things slowdown, which they inevitably will, businesses find themselves with an excess amount of staff and not enough work, causing an unbalance in the scale financially as well as unhappy employees. Without proper planning and budgeting you could find yourself going into debt too fast, which can lead to a crash.
Slower growth typically is the best option for most businesses because you have a greater ability to control how much workload you bring on, and how many employees you have under your belt. Ultimately you can’t let the idea of growth scare you. There is something to be said for the point where you look at your workload and have to decide whether to keep going with the workforce you have or bring on more staff. By staying small, you could find yourself and your staff being overworked and actually losing business because of your inability to take care of the job or project in a timely fashion. At some point you just have to bite the bullet, hire the extra staff, and resign yourself to knowing that you have a certain number of employees to keep busy and you strive and work as hard as possible to keep the workload coming in. Any amount of growth, no matter how small, can be an incredibly scary step for most business and owners. However, growth is paramount should your company wish to succeed outside of its early beginnings.
O = Organization: Part of a company’s ability or inability to absorb and/or grow is its ability to be organized. Owners who try to do everything will find themselves very quickly being swallowed up by the workload and in most cases being left hung out to dry. It will be a case of too much “hard” work but not enough “smart” work. It’s important to have the necessary steps in place financially, procedurally, and organizationally in order to ensure that the work load gets completed in high standards and in a timely fashion. But it’s not enough to just complete the jobs in the field, but also ensuring that the financial end, the billing of the customer and receipt of payment, is being completed as well. It doesn’t matter how well a business is doing if the money doesn’t come in the door and the bills are not being paid. Frozen accounts can cripple a company and stifle any chance of growth.
Trusting the financial future and well-being of your company to a hired individual can be difficult for an owner. But it’s important that the right staff and managers are put into place, to do just that: manage. With the right management structure in place, the owner can easily find themselves living the high life as the support network below him handles all of the day-to-day operations. Proper operations and organization are yet another key to any growth situation.
S = Strength. Another key component in the success of a company is knowing its strengths and weaknesses. Within the HVACR industry, there are many companies who choose to bundle multiple trades under one business umbrella. While this decision can be a shrewd business move, without the necessary structure and organization, a company can find themselves being pulled in multiple directions, thereby being stretched too thin. That stretching can oftentimes lead to possible poor performance in one or more areas, as the manpower and manager are not prepared to deal with the workload. If done right, the company can become a one stop shop powerhouse in their area. But it’s important that if you want to go that route that you start off immediately putting the necessary planning, structure, and organization into place. Remember, always work smart and not hard.
For those who wish to be more selective with their business offerings, less “one stop shop,” and more specialty focused, it is important to know what your company is good at, to stick with it, and to grow from there. Invest the time and energy into making your company and your services invaluable to the customers around you. If there is a niche service within your area and you have the manpower or education to fill that role, then do so. If the majority of the companies in your area are residential and there is a gap in the commercial sector, contemplate going that route, and become the leader. There are so many different avenues within this field (installation, general maintenance, service, commercial vs residential, airflow and ventilation, and even duct cleaning) that if a company can think outside of the box far enough, they can easily find a niche or strength that can help propel them above their competition.
Everyone knows that starting a business is hard but growing and maintaining a company can be just as difficult. But with the above key building blocks as your base, any business, no matter how small, has the chance to succeed and grow. So, take the chance, spread your LEGOs on the floor, and let your imagination lead the way.