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Running Your Business By Remote Control

It's about time. Twenty-four hours just doesn't spread far enough to meet all of your needs. Your response is to prioritize the to do list. Conditions usually dictate that time out, time off, time to think, time for the family, even personal time are last on the list. Your dream of a vacation someday is overshadowed by your desire to have a few minutes of peace today.

Where does the time go? You know how much time it will take to hang a door because you have developed a system through experience which you use over and over again. If you become swamped with doors to hang, you don't hesitate to teach another person your system knowing that with some practice this new person can more or less match your performance.

How much time does it take to estimate accurately? That may be a tougher questions to answer unless you have a system in place which can be used over and over again. If you become swamped with estimates to get out, you could teach another person your system with the same expectations you had of your new door installer. You can duplicate your sales efforts if you have a system to rely on. In fact you can duplicate yourself right into free time by installing systems to run your business.

Sales and estimating are common to all types and sizes of remodeling business, these systems might be the first to be installed:

Adopt a Unit Cost System of Estimating which provides you with verifiable, scientifically determined numbers updated periodically for your location. These systems are developed and monitored constantly by professionals whose job is to keep you in business by providing correct costs figures. The systems simplify the estimating process by identifying every construction cost by a unit of measurement; lineal foot, square foot, each, each plus per square foot. It is possible to start using a system like this manually with a plan to grow into a computerized version when appropriate. If you already are using computers in your work, don’t hesitate to start out with a computerized version. You will find products available at conventions, trade shows and seminars, or learn by conferring with competitors and reading trade publications. Be aware that when you chose a unit cost system what you are buying are the numbers or 'data base.' The data base should be specific to your type of business; remodeling, custom building, etc. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can create and maintain your own data base, that's a waste of time, you should however be able to modify and customize the system you purchase.

Implement a Sales System which will streamline the process of qualifying leads in order to target the most likely buyer for your product. The sales system will include the use of a lead form containing carefully crafted, open-ended questions used as a script by whomever answers the phone to begin the qualification process. Such a system will include a step by step process for setting appointments, gaining the prospect's trust and defining their needs, writing the contract and finalizing the order. Discover such a system by attending conventions and trade shows or taking advantage of seminars presented by those who specialize in this topic.

Once the sales and estimating systems are in place it's time to explore a system which would make it possible to arrange financing on behalf of your customers. Contractors report that overall price is not as much of an issue when viewed as a monthly payment. A difference in sales price of thousand of dollars represents only a few dollars per month when presented in terms of a multi-year finance plan. Your customers will love you for making the buying process easier for them.

Associate yourself with a lending institution. The lender will expose you to a System of Financing. If the bank you deal with offers home improvement loans to consumers, start by approaching your banker explaining your interest in sending them clients. You would like to have the bank furnish you with interest rates, monthly payment amounts for various sizes of loans, and simple applications which you would assist the customer with completing. Ideally you would have the capability to quote a monthly payment, define the length of time the payments would run and sign a contract conditionally based on the bank’s approval. The approval process today may be as little as a few hours to a few days after you have forwarded to the bank copies of the contract and credit information. If this is not possible from a local source, there are national lenders who specialize in working with contractors on financing. You can pick their names from the pages of trade magazines, meet with them at trade shows or the meetings of your local trade association. These lenders are anxious to teach you their system in order to allow you to arrange financing for your clients. A system of financing will allow you to sell more jobs at higher profits.

The larger your business, the more opportunities there are for systems:

When you reach the point of having multiple people in the office, create an Organizational Chart which defines the duties of each of the staff. In most office situations the actions of the staff are driven by incoming phone calls. Define who handles phone calls from the field employees relating to payroll, materials or job site questions, who handles calls from venders of materials related to production of jobs, venders of materials or services related to the office, potential customers, past customers and subcontractors. By defining who is responsible for these different areas you are creating a system for making the office more efficient, everything takes less time.

Use the Lead Carpenter System to define the bottom-up system of management which empowers your key people in the field to be responsible for ordering materials, writing and pricing change orders, coordinating sub-contractors or any additional help needed and managing the production of the job with minimum direction from the office.

Results-Oriented Job Descriptions are another system which becomes more important as you have more employees and subcontractors to direct. These job descriptions should be used for everyone from office staff, field employees, subcontractors as well as yourself . Designed to define not only the what but the why for most activities of everyone. For example a Lead Carpenter might be expected to "maintain communication with the home-owner as necessary to keep them advised of the activities on the job which could affect the use of household utilities eliminating the potential for a home-owner to arrive home and be surprised to find that the water or another vital utility was shut off in the house." The entire job description for the Lead Carpenter might be composed of fifteen or twenty key statements such as the previous example which define performance expectations.

By now your investment in systems may be beginning to pay off, giving you enough free time to allow you to think of even more systems which might be installed to make the business run more efficiently. The following systems are actually software programs. Your volume might dictate that the following systems would be beneficial:

The Computerized Estimating System gives you the tools to generate that estimate and print the proposal in just minutes. When combined with lap-top computer, this tool opens the door to "one-call closes" in the remodeling industry. The ability to play "what if" allows you to present many more options to the home-owner increasing your chances of a sale. This system should be an outgrowth of the system you adopted manually when you first began your systemization as it takes some time to gain confidence in the system and the prices generated, it would be a waste of time to start over. Spend some time selecting the right product for your business and install this system with a long term relationship in mind. The biggest and brightest stars in the industry use data generated by professionals who update cost items specifically for each location on a regular basis.

A computerized Job Cost Accounting System allows you to allocate expenses on a per job basis as checks are written for employees, subcontractors and suppliers. There are numerous products available, the best system would be integrated with your estimating system, manage your checkbook, profit and loss statements as well as all book-keeping needs, may create invoices based on work completed per job and even remind you when certificates of insurance from subcontractors have expired.

A Scheduling System, most commonly computer generated, allows you to answer the question; "How long will it take?" with less guesswork and more accuracy by generating a flow chart of activities involved in the project. This product is available from a variety of sources.

A Computer Aided Drafting System allows you to present your customer with professional plans, elevations, perspectives and visualizations for use in sales and to document the intended results. Many choices are available, consider the ease of use, as well as the ability to integrate with your estimating system. This will also be a powerful addition to your sales system. Many venders have booths at conventions and trade shows allowing you to test drive the product you are considering.

A Lead Tracking System allows the customer information to be entered into the computer as the questions contained on the Lead Form are asked. This system can then be used to evaluate and track leads, organize appointments, generate marketing data-bases for future use, tabulate the number of leads required to make a sale, sort the leads into various categories such as: "how the customer got your name." This is a powerful management tool which allows you to focus your marketing resources more productively, determine the cost per lead, and rate the efficiency of individual sales people, among other things.

During this process of installing systems to run your business, you have converted your business into an entity which could more easily be sold. You’ve begun to think of your business as a vehicle which you could sell and perhaps retire from at some future date.

As time goes by technology promises even more systems which will streamline your business. Prepare yourself for the time when each lead carpenter will have a lap-top on the job, with access to all of the integrated systems in your office as well as Email contact with all subs and suppliers who are linked to your scheduling program for each job they are involved in. Digital cameras now allow photos of job progress to be submitted on a regular basis. Just as radios and cell-phones have had a large impact on management's ability to operate by remote control, technology will create new opportunities for more systems.

Systems Run the Business,
People Run the Systems

As you add more systems to match the needs of your business you will find that systems run the business, people run the systems. To be effective a system must be able to be duplicated, allowing it to be used over and over again by numerous people with predictable results. By delegating responsibilities to others who will run the systems you have placed, you can create the ability to run your business from just about anywhere in today's world. All you are required to do is to monitor the systems. All that requires is a cell phone and/or a modem.

Where was it you wanted to run your business from next month, somewhere in the Caribbean?