You Don’t Have to be Big to be Professional by Mark Coxon
I’ve taken some heat in the past from smaller integration firms, (imagine that). I’ve learned that the term “Trunk Slammer” is an emotional hot button for almost any integrator, commercial or residential, that works out of a home office and a warehouse located in the garage.
I’ve also gotten in trouble for questioning the quality of commercial work done by residential firms who have flooded the market over the past couple years. The assumption is that I am against small business, or against companies evolving to expand into new and different markets. One person even commented the “Everyone has to start somewhere @$$#ole!”
I guess I’m just misunderstood. I’m not against any of those things. The problem is that some integrators use being small as an excuse for not doing things right, and that is the problem. So let me be clear in my intentions:
Integrators, you don’t have to be BIG, to be PROFESSIONAL.
As such, I wanted to layout a few common pitfalls I see smaller integrators fall into, and some bootstrap budget solutions that can take their businesses up a notch.
1) Scheduling. I see way too many integrators still utilizing Excel files to try an manage their technicians. A job then pops up last-minute, the Excel file wasn’t updated, etc and now installs are missed. I understand that not every business can afford Exchange and Outlook for every employee, and coordinating multiple Google Calendars, etc can be tedious at best. For integrators looking for a great inexpensive scheduling tool, look toward something like Zoho Calendar. You can set up each install crew as a “Group” and then assign them to a job on the calendar, which will trigger an email alert as well. Since this is a web-based tool, installers can access it from their phones at any time.
2) Finishing jobs in a timely fashion. This is a common issue any integration firm faces. A job is scheduled to take 3 days, an issue with HDMI pops up, and guess what? You need at least a “Day 4”. This becomes especially hard on smaller firms with fewer installers, as they may be booked the next day on a new job. Again, if there is not a great scheduling tool in place, typically the integrator can’t even begin to speculate on their return to site. The Zoho Calendar tool again comes in nicely to at least get a look at the team’s upcoming schedule to give an educated guess.
Here is another piece of wisdom however every integrator should know.
Finishing on time is exponentially more important that starting on time.
People remember their experience based on how it was at the “peak”, (good or bad), and the “end”. Leaving a job unfinished for a week will kill your referral business and your client’s attitude, and may even have them withholding your final check.
Starting a day or two late will be an annoyance to say the least. However, if you start late, and kick in some extra hours onsite to catch up and finish on time, I guarantee that client will be more impressed with your work ethic and professionalism than they would have if you started and ended on time.
3) Answering the phone. Larger firms usually have at least someone around for the client to talk to when things go wrong onsite. Even if it’s not the person who can do anything to solve the issue, it sure feels nice to talk to someone as opposed to leaving a message at the beep.
I think most people try to avoid confrontation whenever possible, but there is something to be said for picking up the phone, especially when we know that the caller most likely has a problem. The little advantage you gain by hearing the issue first on voicemail and having time to formulate a response is lost as the customer boils over awaiting your call.
Pick up the phone right away. Listen first, repeat the issue, and clarify that you heard correctly. Then if you need time, gracefully ask for it.
“Mr. Client. I share your concern, and I’d like to provide a true remedy as opposed to a band-aid. I am going to explore a couple of options and then get back to you in the next hour or two to offer a solution. What number can I reach you at later today?”
4) Returning Calls. Believe it or not, this is a huge problem as well, especially with smaller firms. The success of your business relies on returning calls. Whether it is to follow-up on a sales inquiry or get back to people on solutions to their problems, no response is bad for business. Scheduled follow-up is also a must in planning future sales calls, or remembering to call back in the first quarter when your clients new budgets come out. Again, a great free tool from Zoho is Zoho CRM. It allows you to manage contacts, store quotes, schedule follow-up, etc. It is also web-based, accessible from anywhere, and it syncs with the Zoho Calendar that you are now using to track your job schedule. It’s also free up to 3 users. If you have more people that need access, but can’t afford to pay, you can set up a “Sales”, “Operations”, and “Management” login and give different levels of access to certain job functions.
It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to do things right.
It takes a little determination to develop a process and tackle a slight learning curve on some new tools. It also takes some discipline to follow the process you have set up. However, once processes are in place and followed, they make your company look like the real deal, and more on par with your larger competitors. It also provides a platform for you to grow, as it takes the pressure off of you as the business owner to run every aspect of the business day-to-day, and allow you to focus on making your business bigger and better.
Mark has been in the IT & AV field for over 12 years. He currently works as an Account manager with Horizon Display and is a contributor with various AV industry publications. You can follow Mark on Twitter @AVPhenom. The expressed opinions are his own…You have been warned!