Keep your management hand on the throttle in 2017 with these month-by-month small-business improvement tips.
You’ve celebrated the holidays and your New Year’s Eve celebration is but a foggy memory. Now it’s time to plan for taking care of your business in 2017.
Perhaps in recent years you’ve just let the business happen. You’ve been content to take any new customers who’ve come along, and tried your darndest to continue giving good service to your regular clientele. Your crew seems happy to roll along with the status quo, so you haven’t instituted any new benefits programs or reviewed their wages.
Everybody seems happy. Don’t rock the boat. Has that been your mission statement lately? In an effort to reset your expectations for 2017, I present a month-by-month business refresher that will hopefully lead to more revenue, lower expenses and even happier employees. Follow these tips and let me know how you fared at the end of the year:
January – Plan for labor needs
Look back at the past few years. Have crews been working longer hours, causing burnout and raising overtime expenses? Have service lead times drawn out longer than you’re comfortable with? This is a business where most customers who call need work done yesterday, and adding to emergency workload can stretch your workforce to the extreme. Maybe you expect enough work this year to add a driver and vacuum truck, or put someone on system inspection or maintenance work full time. Remember, adding employees doesn’t only impact you on the expense side. You should raise significant revenue with each new worker you put online.
February – Address training and continuing education
Training opportunities abound this time of year as state associations and groups like the National Association of Wastewater Technicians offer many and varied classes. And the WWETT Show in Indianapolis features several days of seminars and sessions with national experts in the wastewater field. This year’s event is Feb. 22-25, and you can learn more about seminar offerings by visiting wwettshow.com. It’s wise to knock out training required by your state or local permitting agency during the slower winter.
March – Order supplies
Organize the warehouse space and take inventory of consumable items like paper products and bacteria treatment. Get on your trucks and assess the condition of vacuum hose. Pop the hood and check out filters, belts and hoses. Talk to your equipment vendors about expected product availability, shipment delays and any specials for bulk purchases. Anticipate your needs based on last year’s usage and forecast your demand for 2017. It’s better to stock the warehouse as much as is practical before the busy season starts. Explore whether you can enter into agreements for bulk purchases with your friendly competitors.
April – Make sure your technology is working
Check your accounting, routing or other computer software programs for updates before seasonal business picks up. Clean up the customer database, adding and deleting contacts as needed. Assess your company smartphones and tablets for continued viability. If they are more than a few years old, consider replacement to speed up your workflow. Processor speeds and operating systems evolve rapidly in these hand-held devices, and older units can leave you sitting in the truck waiting for important data to transfer or routing maps to load. Reduced battery life can also cause headaches when front-line workers are unexpectedly out of touch. It might not always feel like it, but you’re money ahead keeping technology equipment refreshed and ready to go.
May – Plan community involvement
In the days of social media, reputation building is a big deal. If your growth strategy doesn’t include donating your time and expertise in some way to civic service, it’s time to start thinking of ways you can pitch in. Call local festival organizers and see if you can trade some modest services for a sponsorship opportunity. You don’t want to lose out on a paying gig, but you could add value to your paid service by donating back a percentage of your bill. Choose a cause near and dear to your heart and partner with that charity on a project. It could be anything from providing portable restrooms for a fun run to installing a septic system for a Habitat For Humanity family. Do your part for the community and then don’t be afraid to tell the world about it through your Facebook page or company website.
June – Perform spot checks in the field
You trust your drivers, sure. But don’t take for granted that they’re providing the best service possible every day. Ride along with or behind your crews one day this month. You can choose whether or not to tell them in advance about the spot checks. Watch how they follow safety procedures. Make sure they leave a work site as clean as they found it. Call all of their route customers the next day to see if they were happy with the service. After the spot checks, sit down for a constructive meeting with technicians and share what you learned. Work hard to make it a positive experience — your people might not be thrilled with the idea, but it’s a win-win if customer service protocol is validated or improved in the process.
July – Review equipment maintenance
Equipment breakdowns are especially costly in the midst of the busy season. Patches and Band-Aid solutions used by technicians to keep trucks on the road can present a looming safety hazard. Inspect your trucks on a staggered schedule, planning to look at the entire fleet over the course of a month. This includes the engine and drivetrain, the vacuum system (pump, tank, hoses and fittings), chassis and interior. Address any issues you find immediately to avoid stranding a driver on the side of the road or having to reschedule customers to account for a truck that unexpectedly goes out of service for a week.
August – Review marketing plans
Emergency calls will throw a wrench into your scheduling the closer you get to the end of the season. How about sending out a mailer to your septic customers to remind them to call now for service rather than putting it off until the toilet backs up at their Thanksgiving gathering? You could offer an August special for $10 off a pumping job to fill the routes in the dog days of summer and avoid some of those last-minute, late-season calls. This is also a good time to look back at early season spikes in business and figure out how to better use advertising dollars, your website and social media marketing to even things out a little.
September – Trim business expenses
You’ve been focused on building revenue for the past several months of high call volumes. The key has been filling routes with as many paying jobs as possible. Take a step back this month and try cutting business expenses. Look at how much you paid for supplies and ask vendors if there are ways to cut those costs. Review various insurance policies, from auto to business to health. Are those policies cut to the bone? Compare your building rent or mortgage interest rate to see if there are ways to economize. Remember that spending efficiency — just like adding a few new customers — raises the bottom line.
October – Celebrate successes with your team
Your crew has gone out every morning and busted their butts for your business. Now it’s time to show them you appreciate the effort. There are many ways to send a clear message that you value employees, from serving them burgers off the grill in the parking lot to giving everyone a paid day off when business starts to slow down. Actions are important, but you also need to tell them how they’ve helped support your business.
November – Review the employee benefits package
You showed employees you care in October; now look at initiatives that will keep employees on your team for the long haul. Review the benefits package for your employees and compare it to what similar companies in your area are offering. Your local Chamber of Commerce or members of your state wastewater association can probably help you make the comparison. Do you offer paid vacations, flex scheduling, a retirement account or health and life insurance to your workers? If not, what steps could you take to add those benefits? Remember that employee retention is a huge issue, both because quality workers are as valuable as gold and finding new ones is expensive and time-consuming.
December – Give thanks
Express gratitude to your customers for their loyalty, to your family for their patience, and to your community for providing a great place to live and work. The message can go out in many ways, from a holiday postcard to customers, to an ad in the local paper to give a shout-out to your neighbors.