If we’re all honest with ourselves, we have to agree most small businesses are short-handed. In my 30 years of business consulting, I would estimate 40% to 50% of my client/franchisee interactions have something to do with staffing. Short-staffed, as a condition, can be caused by a number of other conditions, and “short-handed” can come in many forms.
- Your employees are excellent, but you could use more to match your workload.
- You have positions in the company that are open due to someone leaving or being fired.
- You have employee(s) who have reached their potential, and need some who can go further.
You haven’t filled any of the “not a position yet” boxes in your organization chart. This is where your company’s potential hides. These are the boxes you should fill if you want mental peace, time to plan, to strategize, and most importantly, to grow your company.
It’s obvious you’re understaffed if the work isn’t getting done fast enough. It doesn’t require an HR genius to see this one. But maybe you don’t need the ego stroke of telling customers you’re “booked out three weeks.” Ideally, you’re telling customers “absolutely we can get this done soon.” A good company doesn’t stay small just so they can brag about being busy. The same error is made in the statement “we don’t have to advertise.” Most growing companies would rather speed up their growth with a bit of marketing… but I digress.
Back to Staffing
…Almost. First, let me bring you up to speed on who I am and why I was asked to write this article. The request was not for an article on staffing. I am the COO of the restoration franchise brand Service Team of Professionals (STOP Restoration). STOP was acquired in November by a multi-franchise group, Authority Brands. “AB” also owns Ben Franklin Plumbing, One-Hour HVAC, Mr. Sparky Electric, The Cleaning Authority (maid service), and five other service brands. The article you’re reading started with a request to tell about the merger with AB, including the who, what, when, how, and the why. I can easily point to three simple concepts: service, continued modernization, and growth, all of which require a collection of capable people to attain. I decided to dual-focus this article to include staffing, something hot on every-one’s plate.
Our founder, my father, Mack Clark, was one of the most popular management and motivating speakers the cleaning/restoration industry has ever seen. One doesn’t have to listen very hard to hear “Mackisms” that still survive in the industry today. Popular Mackisms include “nothing starts without a plan” or “without a goal, there is no sense of urgency“, and a crowd favorite, “if it wasn’t written, it didn’t happen.” Mack didn’t show up in the industry as a franchisor. I believe STOP is the only franchise brand that began as a consulting firm, speaking at the conventions and working with independent companies just like yours. After 27 years on the payroll, I purchased STOP and Mack retired in 2017. I believe STOP’s path, evolving into a franchise organically from within the industry, is the reason I was asked to share the experience of our merger with Authority Brands franchise group. On a not-so-happy note, Mack unexpectedly passed away in 2018. He is missed by many in the cleaning and restoration industry and we are so appreciative of the thoughts and well-wishes we received.
I Hate to Argue…
…But I argue every day that most companies are not only understaffed (and, therefore, unable to keep up with work they’ve booked), but they are understaffed in necessary-to-grow positions and initiatives. Examples:
- Do you have an employee handbook?
- Do you have a training program that produces a consistent service, regardless which technician does the work?
- How much action/additions/change does Google see on your website? (Without activity, Google basically thinks you haven’t been to work in a while, and ranking falls).
- Do you have an attorney and accountant relationship, so you don’t hesitate to get real advice when a sticky situation or tax/bookkeeping question arises? (A bad decision can cost far more than the preventive advice).
- Do you have real tech support keeping you at least in the 21st century (which is already 1/5 in the past)? We must adopt technology (whether we love it or not).
- Do you have a commercial advertising/art firm that creates great work and maintains connectivity throughout your branding?
- This list could fill a page!
One Word & a Belief
As you might guess by reading the first half of this article, the simple answer to why I merged with a bigger entity is the word staffing and my belief that life doesn’t give us enough time to do it all by ourselves. I preach that a true leader has the ability to look in the mirror and blame the person looking back for anything and everything in their company. Otherwise, they are paralyzed with foolish pride and ego. These aren’t leadership qualities. If we’re dissatisfied with the speed of growth, or the pursuit of modernization and perfection, then something has to change.
Was I Understaffed?
If I’m not honest with myself, I can’t learn, change, nor grow. I had to ask myself the question: Was I understaffed? And if so, where should I position my next hire? The truth is, most of us are chasing today’s brushfire, tossing buckets of water, looking for a hose, spitting. I was actually cruising along fairly peacefully celebrating the momentum of my company from the day I bought it, but the speed of certain “departments” wasn’t satisfying me. We needed a bigger team to help make those big decisions, like: where to spend money to bring growth? I knew that with better direction from a team of differently-experienced people in the franchise sector, we would find the best plan for everyone involved. I redefined my job as “To bring my franchisees (and their customers) constant improvements, as fast as possible, forever.” This keeps the wheels of imagination, open-mindedness, and change in the mix. Without dedicated personnel to drive specific quality and growth initiatives, a business will lag in one way or another sooner or later. To disagree with this is to rely on hope. And hope is not a management tool (Mack Clark “Mackism” #142). The merger with Authority Brands brought us (and our franchisees) into the arms of a 200-person corporate support team serving the AB brands (now 10 in total). We walked into numerous in-house departments (from legal to creative to public relations) that most small companies (even franchise-brand home offices) can’t afford. We gained, basically overnight, an entire slew of IT folks driving better technology, a team in charge of our digital marketing (SEO/PPC/Social Media) strategies, legal, and branding. Did I mention 1,000 AB family franchisees to learn from and share with? We couldn’t match these benefits as quickly nor at the same level before we merged with Authority Brands. I illustrate this list of benefits simply to show you there are so many areas of your business you may not be paying attention to, all because you’re understaffed. You probably did some planning when you launched your company. Now that you own a real, live business, when was the last time you cleared your mind to dream? To plan? To visualize? You need a certain amount of peaceful time to recognize the areas that might be holding you back or leaving you vulnerable.
Gotta Get Those Jobs Done
If your entry into self-employment looks anything like most, you were focused primarily on doing jobs. And you probably believed you had stumbled into “the big money” (until you sat down to pay the bills for a few months). You now see that gross sales is not the same as “what you make” (This is a vocabulary issue that carries much confusion in the small business world). There’s a Mack-ism in there somewhere… I forget the #.
Planning: The First Responsibility of Management
As you have grown, you are realizing you don’t have enough time in the day to keep up. I can highly recommend, as the first step to sanity, that you write a time plan for each week. This is not a list of your appointments, duties, and errands. This is a written dedication of time blocks to be spent in certain departments and types of tasks. Protect your time and delegate everything else that pops up. Without seeing your bottlenecked tasks as delegable, you’ll never see the need for additional personnel to take areas of responsibility (even entire departments) off your plate. You’ll just keep complaining about “no time and lack of staff.” And nothing will change. As you practice recruiting, interviewing, and developing systems in your company, you’ll learn more and more. The bad news is that you’ll discover how many areas you simply haven’t been paying attention to over the years. When you envision these departments getting the love, the time and the fine-tuning of a modern company, you will be emboldened to take further steps in doing what I call “letting your company grow.” I know your company wants to grow. Your customers want you to grow. Look in the mirror and figure out who is holding it back… and once and for all, do something about it.
Let The Darn Thing Grow!
Maybe it’s time to carve out some needed time to recruit for more (and/or better?) employees. Maybe it’s time to hire a general manager with experience in growing a service company. (Remember, this is a position of business skills, not drying skills). You will have to throw money forward, as an investment in this person, with risk (part of the deal). Maybe it’s time you looked into one of the business consultants that do a great job for their clients in this industry. There is no shame in needing a plan. And, yes, I am not too shy to say it: maybe you should take a look at a few franchises and see what crazy stuff franchisors are doing for our franchisees out here in “Cleaning and Restoration Franchise Land.” There are a number of large franchise groups that own a restoration brand. It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, and not necessarily an indicator that the future belongs to THE BIG GUYS. But I believe the future will likely belong to the modern, technologically advanced, system-oriented, marketing and customer service driven providers. These firms are not built without management clarity and more than one intelligent person on the team.
Make a list of “necessary to grow” positions and projects in your company. Some positions might be full-time, in-house. Many are part-time or sub-contract needs that will prevent problems if you have them in place to help control growth. We can get so caught up with keeping up, we fail to recognize, create and invest in additional positions that would free us up to work ON our companies, not IN a truck or AT the battle desk, where the urgencies seem to roll uphill and land; leaving no time for the “importancies” (a Brian-ism. lol). The winners in the future will recognize that brushfire management is not a chapter in any management book. Living a life up against the wall, every day a scramble, is not what your doctor nor your spouse wants for you. And it won’t get you to a point of planned growth. I hope you get there - however you decide to do this. But get there. Because you, just like I was, might be currently under-staffed.