Electrical contracting industry leaders’ talk could lead you to conclude that there is never a chance to critically examine your business practices. When the economy is booming and projects are ample, there is no time for it. When business is stagnating, there is no money for it. Yet, optimizing these factors will determine where your business will rank in the battle for the survival of the fittest.

When the day-to-day tempo in your business has slowed down to the point that you are contemplating measures that will impact the livelihood of some of your employees, you have suddenly been given the opportunity to re-engineer your business.

Here are some areas to investigate:

• Finding better ways to get orders.

• Improving customer service and customer relations.

• Planning and tracking projects more efficiently.

• Increasing safety and quality of jobs.

• Researching the offerings for high-quality and time-saving installation materials.

• Selecting the right tools.

• Defining and sourcing the optimal testing tools (buy/rent).

• Outfitting the trucks/job sites with the proper equipment.

But you, the owner or manager, shouldn’t conduct this investigation yourself. Your job right now is to attract business. You employ superintendents, technicians, and office personnel who have the free time, knowledge, and motivation to do a top job on these assignments.

Have your estimator run an analysis of the jobs your company completed in the last year or two, and pinpoint particularly positive elements of their execution. Which customers gave you a fair shake at realizing a profit? From whom did you get referrals? Is something in the way you do business setting you apart from your competition in a positive way? Are you capitalizing on it?

Do you present a coordinated, meaningful image through your publicity efforts (business cards, letterheads, quotes, invoices, ad brochures, artwork on service trucks, toolboxes, work clothes)?

Are your employees, from the receptionist to the apprentice, encouraged to work on their interpersonal communication skills, including professionalism and friendliness? Do they know that it is better for business to answer any question, even a silly one, from a customer than to prepare for really intelligent questions that nobody might ask?

Are your foremen trained in efficient project tracking and planning techniques? What courses can be taken? Are your people reading publications like the one in your hands right now regularly?

Challenge your distributor to bring in some manufacturer’s representatives to inform you of the latest innovations. An old-time contractor once told me at a trade show: “I’ve used your fasteners for many years, in fact all six of them.” Yet, we have over 700 fasteners in our catalog. Manufacturers are often eager to provide early-morning presentations to a group of installers or “lunch and learns” to estimators and superintendents. But you must set some guidelines:

No “sales-speak.” Ask to be shown specific time-saving products and features with actual cost comparisons. Have one of your employees summarize the results and their effect on your bottom line.
When your employees have concluded their investigations and drawn up proposals, it is your turn to evaluate and implement the best ideas and suggestions.

Then you are prepared for the next wave of orders, armed with a new set of strategies and updated market knowledge. Most importantly, you’ll have a team of employees who is eager to prove to you that their concepts work and who appreciate your confidence in their ability to redesign “their” company.

KEDEN is the codes and standards manager for ERICO, Inc. in Solon, Ohio. He can be reached at rkeden@erico.com.