I was ready to crawl into bed after a long day when my phone rang. The call was from a contractor named Marty whom I’d worked with several years earlier. He didn’t sound good. In fact, he was calling from his hospital bed following a bad accident in his company truck. His truck had been totaled, and he’d been in intensive care for several days.
“If I’m hard to understand,” he said, “it’s because my jaw is wired shut. On top of that, my leg’s broken, I have back problems, and it looks like I’ll be laid up for a while. I can’t work. I’ve lost my company. I’ve lost everything.”
I remembered this contractor as being a man of high integrity. He was good at what he did, and his customers liked him. I think he called me because he just needed someone to talk to. His wife had had to take a second job in an effort to save their home. I felt horrible for Marty.
I asked him about insurance. He was fortunate that his health insurance would cover his medical expenses, and his vehicle insurance would pay off the truck. But there was no cash for the mortgage, the utilities, or the groceries.
Marty had three employees: a part-time office helper, a young contractor-in-training, and a trained technician. In the first few days of Marty’s hospitalization, no one knew what to do or where to find anything. Although his wife tried, she didn’t know enough about the business to be of much help.
Marty had to resort to sending calls to a competitor. I asked if he thought he could get his old customers back once he had recovered.
“Doubt it,” was his reply.
Marty’s business evaporated.
He Owned a Job
Some of you reading this know beyond a doubt that if this happened to you, you’d be in the same spot. It’s not a pretty picture.
Here’s the upshot: Marty didn’t own a business; he owned a job. And a crappy job, at that. He worked long hours, rarely took a vacation, charged too little, had no retirement plan, had no help with government and supplier paperwork and hassles, and had no margin for error.
What could Marty have done differently? There are several parts to the answer.
Running a Business
Most contractors are great at what they do. They’re reliable, trustworthy, fair, and they truly care about their customers. They do a great job in the field. In fact, it’s in the field that they shine.
The problem is, most have not invested the same amount of time, energy, commitment, and education into becoming a smart business owner. It takes just as much skill to run and operate a successful business as it does to repair faucets and unplug toilets.
If you’re like most contractors I’ve known, you started out with your pickup truck and a few tools, applying your knowledge in the best way you knew how. Because you did a good job and because customers relied on you and told friends and neighbors about you, your business grew. It grew gradually until one day you realized you needed help, more and better equipment, and possibly added financing to get it all done.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is, the business is not operating based on a plan. The practical side of the business was flourishing, while the other side (planning, management, and communication) was lacking.
This was Marty’s main problem.
Marty never thought about future goals. He had just taken one day at a time and hoped everything would turn out okay in the end.
Where are You?
Where are you in that spectrum? Do you know where you’re going? Do you know how to get there?
Let’s back up for a minute. You may be saying, “Hey Lynn, what does any of this have to do with communication?”
Glad you asked!
The crux of the matter is this: you cannot communicate what you don’t know. You cannot communicate what you have not identified and clarified for yourself. You cannot communicate fuzzy thoughts and ideas. It’s time to pay attention to the core elements of what it takes to create an asset – not just a go-to-work-everyday job.
Being a good businessperson is no harder than being a good contractor. Both have to do with learning and commitment. Realize that the effects of poor management can be devastating to the performance of a company. Many business owners blame employees for poor service, financial losses, and low-quality products, when the fault lies in poor management, poor planning, and poor communication.
You need a Business Plan that will guide you in your daily, quarterly, and annual business. It is the basis of building a business that will deliver you a return on your investment in your business but also drive the behaviors to build a team, drive financial performance, market and sell to differentiate your company from competitors, document and use processes that are teachable and trainable, and become a leader that communicates goals and the vision of your company.
A Business Plan should include the following content:
- An Executive Summary: Your executive summary is a snapshot of your business plan as a whole and touches on your company profile and goals.
- A Company Description: Your company description provides information on what you do, what differentiates your business from others, and the markets your business serves.
- A Market Analysis: It is essential for you to research your business industry, market and competitors.
- Organization & Management: Every business is structured differently. Find out the best organization and management structure for your business.
- Service & Products: What do you sell? How does it benefit your customers? What is the product lifecycle?
- Marketing & Sales: How do you plan to market your business? What is your sales strategy?
- Financial Projections: This section is usually recommended if you are looking for funding, however it is a healthy exercise to estimate sales, expenses, overhead, and budgets. This becomes a measurement against actual performance and can be adjusted over time as part of the updating process of the plan.