Al Levi
Editor's note: Consultant Al Levi helps contractors run their businesses with "less stress and more success." HVAC and plumbing contractors seek his advice regularly. Al has agreed to let us share with readers of The News some of the questions he gets and the answers he provides. The focus is strictly on problem solving and handling the day-to-day operations of a successful contracting business.

To send Al your own questions, which if selected will run anonymously, send him an e-mail at info@appleseedbusiness.com or fax him at 212-202-6275.

This column is meant to be a resource only. Please check with your own trusted business advisers, including your own attorney, to make certain that the advice here complies with all relevant laws, customs, and regulations in your area.

Getting Organized

Dear Al,

I run around all day fighting one fire after another and as a small contractor I need to do everything. By the end of the day, I know I've forgotten half of what I was supposed to be doing. Worse, I've made promises to people and I can't remember what I said to whom.

Any suggestions?

Sincerely,
Forgetful

Dear Forgetful,

First of all, it's hard to juggle the day-to-day stuff we have planned let alone all the other stuff that hits you in the face all day long.

I'm sure you intend to fulfill your promises, but you're trusting you'll remember it all and frankly it isn't going to happen. One solution is to carry a small note pad with you and take notes about what you have to do, what you said to whom, and any other things that hit you during the day. The problem is to remember to get to it all before the end of the day or you're stuck with all these papers that'll pile up.

What's much better is using a PDA (personal digital assistant) like a Palm which allows you to take notes all day long and synch it with your computer so you have a backup copy. Finally, before you go to bed each night you need to do the following with everything you've entered in your PDA in today's page:

1. Delete it if it's done.

2. Move it if you didn't get to it today.

3. Delete it if you've been moving it for too long and admit you're not likely to get it done.

Regards,
Al Levi

Keeping The Phones Ringing

Dear Al,

Getting more calls when we slow down is a major challenge. We do almost all of our marketing in the Yellow Pages.

How do I keep the phones ringing when it slows down?

Sincerely,
Slow Down

Dear Slow Down,

A good marketing plan includes the following:

1. Marketing budget;

2. Marketing allocation; and

3. Marketing calendar.

A marketing budget is based on a percentage of your sales. Typically, a very conservative company would be at 4 percent of sales and an aggressive company would be at about 12 to 15 percent of sales.

Marketing allocation is what media you use. The problem with spending too much of your marketing budget on the Yellow Pages is that it leaves you no money to do what I call "turn-it-on and turn-it-off" marketing. Typically, the Yellow Pages gets us calls when we're busy and doesn't make the phone ring when we need it. You should also allocate money to do newsletters, advertorials in local newspapers your customers' read, and running an aggressive campaign of direct mail.

A marketing calendar is an automatic trigger that has you assembling the marketing message and marketing pieces ahead of your normally slow times so that you can get the message out and get calls during those slow times.

Regards,
Al Levi

Al Levi of Appleseed Business specializes, as his Web site says, in "Making Contractors' Lives Less Stressful and More Successful." Through private workshops, on-site assessments, customized operating manuals, and staff training programs, Levi delivers the benefit of the experience he gained from years of operating a large family-run HVAC and plumbing business. Learn more by visiting www.appleseedbusiness.com. You may also contact Levi by e-mail at info@appleseedbusiness.com or by fax at 212-202-6275.

Publication date: 07/11/2005