One of the joys of running a service business is dealing with the ups and downs of a full and empty schedule. Most of my clients are painting contractors. In the winter months, they are all scrambling to keep their crews busy. In the spring and summer they are swamped with work. It actually is a good problem to have, but some of them are actually turning away work due to having such a full schedule of booked projects.
A slight detour for a moment (though it is related) A number of years ago, I shared this similar frustration to my business coach I had when I was involved in Vistage International. I told him that we had these ups and downs and had a hard time growing our business knowing that winter was approaching and we’d have to downsize again. The same cycle each year!
The business coach shared with me how a business works and grows. In short, it is called “growing pains.” To grow a business, it is and will be painful. A salesperson’s job is to sell jobs (profitably). He should not be as involved in all the other aspects of the business such as production and customer service. He just needs to sell.
Then production will see all the jobs he is selling and wonder how he is supposed to schedule all the work. He will conclude that he must hire new employees. This brings up another set of problems, training and customer service issues. When you hire new employees there is a training period. The staff that has been with you for awhile also might get a little frustrated because they have a “green” (new employee) helping them.
What happens when you hire new employees and have to train them? Customers might complain just a little bit more because of the growing pains you are experiencing. This too is normal, the business coach told me. You will then be forced to make sure you have good training and procedures in order. You will also make sure you deal with your customers concerns. There is no way around it.
So there is the cycle. To grow a business, you have to be ready to face the fact that you will have those growing pains. You need to face them head on or you will continue to go up and down in your business.
4 Things To Do When Swamped With Work Now
Now back to the main purpose of this blog, what are a few things you can do now when you are swamped with work.
- Make sure you have a plan. Prepare in advanced for the uptick in work. You need to look at the previous few years to see when work really picks up and slows down. If April 1st is the date (historically) when the phone really rings off the hook, then your plan should begin ahead of schedule. This might be looking for an estimator in January and February. It might mean hiring a few extra employees in March.
- Raise Your Prices: If you are really swamped, you also need to look at what you are charging for work. To keep staff busy during a slow season, most companies will lower their hourly rate, even operating at break even numbers for a time. Sticking to your plan of when you know you will typically be busy, start bidding work at your normal and profitable rate ahead of schedule. So in March, don’t offer any discounts.
- Don’t Let Customer Service Suffer: This is probably one of the most difficult things to do. When you get so busy you lose sleep, it is hard to keep customers happy. Going back to step #1 (have a plan) make sure you plan out how you will keep customers happy. Maybe it involves taking an employee from the field and charging him or her with a few new responsibilities during the busy season. Make a temporary position and call it “Customer Happiness Manager.” Create a job description for this person that might require another 8-10 hours of work each week. This person can possibly help estimate/bid smaller projects, call to confirm start dates, follow up on how the job went, write thank you notes, encourage online reviews, ordering supplies, etc.
- Don’t Stop Marketing: The last thing you don’t want to do is pause any of your marketing efforts. When you send your mailers, email blast etc out, just don’t discount. Keep your name out there in front of your target audience. This is also a great time to plan ahead. See if you can pre-sell work for those who are not in a hurry. Tell them about your slow season or a “rainy day” special.
What Do You Do When You Get Busy
I am curious to what you all do now when you get busy, what ideas you have and what you plan to do this season. I do hope you are off to a great second quarter like many of the contractors I’ve spoken to lately. Let me know by email or in the comments below.