Tommy Lee-Zmuda, installer and founder of The Boiler Business, breaks down three crucial pillars business owners should consider to ensure the success of their business systems.

With most of our industry-focused on getting more leads, doing more work, getting more customers, and at all costs staying busy, it is easy to miss the importance of our business systems. 

We have all heard the stories from other engineers that used to have more vans, more lads, and office staff, but at some point decided to operate with a smaller workforce. In most cases, they would be the first to agree that they grew too fast without sufficient business systems in place. So, if you want to build a business that lasts, you will need solid business systems to support the marketing and subsequent workload that follows. More solid systems will give better results; more profit in less time with fewer callbacks. 

There are three main areas that combine as the backbone of your business systems: 

  • Five-star customer service and journeys
  • Business automation and simple systems 
  • People and systems.

Five-star customer service and journeys

So, to save time and make more money, where do we start? Have you heard the saying, ‘start with the customer in mind’?. Our industry is a service-based industry. That is, we serve customers who require our knowledge and experience. 

To build solid, robust systems, we should start with our best customers in mind. Forget about all the customers that give you constant headaches. Spend some time thinking about who you currently serve and identify your best five-star customers and what they want. From here, write out the customer journey. Also, do not just focus on doing the work; make sure you turn up on time and wear shoe protectors, and be polite. Going beyond the minimum should absolutely be the norm.  

If you want to save time and make more money, you should detail every step and communication you have with the customer, from the first phone call to the invoicing, to the follow-up help and support, as well as the annual service. By investing time into improving every step of the customer journey, you will build perceived value. With increased perceived value, you will find that customers are more likely to want to work with you, pay you more money, and join your service plan. They are also more likely to leave an online review and refer you to friends, family, and work colleagues.

By focusing on better customer service for specific customer groups, you will attract more customers like them. Perhaps, the group is from a particular postcode or age demographic. Maybe the customer group is what type of service or product they require. Every business is different, so it is up to you to choose your five-star customer groups and then build the marketing to attract them and the systems to serve them as efficiently as possible.

So, what about the other customers? Yes, building systems for three-star customers will help you make more money. But, as we are all strapped for time, let’s focus on the best customers first, improving customer service to the people you want to serve for another 10 years. 

It might just be in a few years from now that you no longer wish to work with those you have labelled three-star customers today. As our business evolves and develops, your three-star customers may be the future one-star customers. Which raises the question, why invest time into them now?

Business automation and simple systems

Quickbooks, Xero, Sage, ServiceM8, Commusoft, Expert Trades, Tradehelp, Payaca, and Gas App are all well-known software systems in our industry. But can you find other automated systems that will help give an advantage to your customer service, your profitability, and your work/home/life balance?

We have been running training sessions for the last three years, and we often see that many small businesses underestimate how simple systems actually can be. Or how something simple, if repeated over and over, will deliver significant results in the long term. A few examples would include a van tool and stock checklist, pre-qualifying customers, tracking enquiries, and email autoresponders. 

Stepping up a gear, let’s start with your business foundations. What software is out there that will help us understand and control our time and money? Thankfully, popular accounting software, such as Quickbooks or Xero, is simple. But what other apps can we find that will create a compound effect on our time and money banks?

If you have not checked them out yet, check out Go Cardless, Stripe, and Square. These payment portals will help you receive money via your smartphone or direct debit. 

Many people may have their Google Calendar or macOS Calendar linked across different devices to help you plan time, but what about tracking time? Tracking your daily activities through apps similar to A-Tracker will help you find out just how productive you are and, more importantly, where you are losing time in your busy schedule. 

In addition, it’s worth asking yourself, do you have any marketing systems? Do you have anything in place that will help move your customer through the customer journey? Something that will answer their questions and let them know what the next steps are? If not, you should implement a solution.

Going back to the customer journey you have written down, can you find ways to automate the process at every step? How about using an automated phone system, emails and website responders, and email and SMS annual service reminders? 

Finally, what about choosing the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System that should hold all your customer details and make running your business as easy as possible. Remember, we want to provide better customer service, that’s what CRM software should do. 

There are many CRMs out there to choose from, and getting the right one will help you make the most of your time. Go too deep, and you may find yourself in a long, expensive contract with no time to learn how to use the system.

If you are starting in business or struggle with setting up software and technology, stick with the lower cost options as they are easier to set up and implement. If your customer database and team are snowballing year-on-year, you will need one of the more advanced options. There is no point in marketing for customers one year and losing them the next due to a basic CRM not communicating with your hard-won customers.

People and systems   

By far, the highest cost in business is paying for people. In-house staff or subcontractors will be taking the most significant slice away from your profit than any other overhead. The cost of labour is why we advise focusing on marketing for the most profitable customers while building your systems.

Growing your team too quickly or too early without the marketing and systems to support will only take your business so far. Without the constant stream of the most profitable customers, a larger team is forced to quote for and complete less profitable work in higher volume. This results in no business development, less efficient systems, lower margins, and stunted growth. We call this the expansion trap.

If you already have staff and a volume that supports these team members, use your team to create as much time as possible for you to build the business systems. Rather than focusing on doing more work, as the business owner, look at how you can be more efficient with what you have. Can you improve the customer journey, add perceived value, and charge more money for your team’s time? Can you tweak old systems or build new ones that will enhance the output of your people?

Remember, having your team and network use the systems you have built is the last piece of the business jigsaw. If you can do this, you will free your time and have a real choice on how to use it. Yes, you could get back on the tools and do more work for more money. Or, you could invest your time in other projects, spend time on your hobbies, or simply more time at home or away with your loved ones.

This article is from the new Business Systems book, part of the Built to Last Business Development Programme. The B2L Programme helps heating engineers build a business that fits their lifestyle and family needs; helping you build your foundations first, with low cost marketing and robust systems. 

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