Case Study

Transformation of a Small Trades Business

Summary

After working for a small local electrical contractor for more than a year, this Master Electrician decided he wanted to acquire the business and become his own boss. The business, Key City Electric, had a robust history of providing electrical service to the local area for more than 64 years. Operationally like many small businesses its previous owner had taken care of many of the day-to-day tasks including answering incoming calls, returning calls, booking and scheduling jobs, confirming appointments, setting up new clients, preparing invoices and the plethora of other tasks involved in running your own business on a daily basis. Other than using QuickBooks for invoicing and accounting, the business was largely run ‘on paper’. Day-to-day tasks were evaluated along with the business objectives and preferences of the new business owner. Solutions were evaluated that reflected the values, personality and culture of the business and the level of control and flexibility the owner was comfortable with.

A customized solution was identified that met the objectives of the new business owner while also providing the following key benefits:

  • More billable hours without increasing employee count or hours at work
  • Increases in both top and bottom line revenue without increases in marketing spend
  • A hard ROI (Return On Investment) above 5X (not counting soft benefits)
  • More flexibility and freedom to manage the business or increase personal time
  • No increase in HR related tasks (no additional hiring/firing/training, no additional payroll, no additional employee management etc.)

Checking back with Tony, owner of Key City Electric, after 4 months of service he remarks
“It’s made my life so much easier and transformed my business. I’m so glad I made the leap
forward.”

Business Description

Key City Electric has provided reliable local electrical contractor services to the area for decades with the personal touch and attention to detail you expect from a successful small business/small business owner. It was recently acquired by an employee with dreams of not only owning his own business but growing the business to provide services to a greater number of clients and broader range of services.

The acquired business had largely been run by its owner, taking care of all the day-to-day operations including taking incoming calls, returning calls, booking and scheduling jobs, confirming appointments, answering basic caller questions, setting up new clients, preparing invoices and more. While these tasks didn’t appear to be enough to justify a full-time employee (not even considering all of its associated overhead), collectively they took a considerable amount of time and owner’s mindshare. They resulted in disruptions to an otherwise efficient workstream, interruptions in conversations with clients/perspective clients and longer days in an effort to just keep up.

Booking new business, estimates, project changes and scheduling were all managed on multiple tattered pocket notepads, notebooks and monthly calendar notebook. Job and jobsite coordination often relied on cryptic notes scribbled down during a call between jobs or while on a job or loosely on informal relationships with other contractors.

Information for invoices was translated from the various notepads and supplier invoices to QuickBooks on a weekly basis, often taking the equivalent of a day per week to complete.

Opportunity

While the business had been run successfully for decades using similar operational practices, the new owner’s military background and training and an appreciation for process told him that significant improvements were possible and gave him the courage to explore a change.

After an initial discussion it was estimated that a majority of incoming calls could be handled by someone else with some basic training and if an electronic schedule were available. This would free the owner up to focus on the part of the business he enjoyed the most and generated the most revenue with confidence that no opportunities for new business over the phone would be missed. Without the interruptions it would also allow him to complete his work sooner (estimated to give back 2 or more billable days per month). While this would be a big step forward and provide a huge benefit, additional opportunities were identified for consideration.

Since an electronic schedule or calendar was key in this first step, the question became which one? Google? Outlook? Something else? After evaluating several software packages developed for the trades/service industry, it became obvious that the right selection could not only eliminate the tattered notebooks but also significantly reduce the time required for many key administrative tasks (including quoting, booking jobs, invoicing and taking payments). In addition to the obvious organizational and information sharing benefits to eliminating the notebooks, it was estimated that this could contribute another 4+ billable days per month.

With the new workflow and easy access to information, it was also believed that “simple jobs” could be booked directly. This would result in a significant increase in caller satisfaction and something rarely experienced with trades businesses. After an evaluation of what “simple jobs” meant, the training requirements needed to enable booking such jobs and the estimated number of “simple jobs” requested on a monthly basis, a stretch objective of 10% to 15% of booked jobs was targeted.

Challenges & Solution

Transitioning any business to a new operating system not only requires lots of planning, time and dedication, it’s also very scary. This is true especially for a small business that has very limited people and financial resources to hire the expert resources that are often considered essential to assure success. Without prior experience with such a transition or access to trusted resources to help, this is a decision that is often deferred/delayed until there is no choice. (Too many times this also means it’s too late for many small businesses.)

In order to ensure success, we agreed on a methodical plan to identify solutions that were consistent with our objectives and a transition plan that would start with delegation of incoming calls. Systematically we would incorporate pieces of the new process, evaluate and stabilize it before moving to the next change.

After evaluating a number of workforce options including adding full time and/or part time employees and virtual assistant services it was agreed that Intelligent Office, a highly customizable and flexible virtual services company, be selected to provide the necessary workforce and workflow solutions. This solution provided a local, full time presence without the expense or overhead associated with hiring a full-time employee (including hiring, firing, training, retraining, managing, payroll etc.). Their flexibility and operating practices assure that changes can easily be made as the business evolves. The technology used to enable the delivery of their virtual services is state-of-the-art and the capability they bring to small business is truly remarkable. It is typically only available to much larger companies at a cost much higher than is offered to its small business clients.

Intelligent Office also introduced us to the software solution for service businesses solution we selected. This solution is characterized by an easy to understand user interface and intuitive workflow that is supported on mobile devices as well as desktop or laptop computers. It has the capability to support workflow from a new client request for an estimate all the way to completing the job and receipt of payment (& automatic syncing with QuickBooks!). It supports multiple vehicles/crews, includes options for notes to/from the field technician, the ability to record pictures from your jobsite, routing to the jobsite and more. (We did not select all of these options but like knowing the capability is there and can easily be added on demand.) Setting up a new business was straight forward and completed without any significant issues. Best of all it’s affordable for a small business.

After meeting with Intelligent Office and providing information about our business and how we wanted to be represented, our account was set up, workflow established and “Client Screens” created. Within days they were taking client calls and answering basic questions. Calls were screened, forwarded and announced if Intelligent Office was not enabled to handle the calls themselves. (One unexpected benefit was the ability to make smarter decisions about staffing, marketing spend etc. based on the actual number of incoming calls, knowing where they came from, the type of call, how they heard about us etc.)

Within a couple of weeks we began the process of migrating our paper processes to the new digital process. The basic setup for our company was quite easy and straight forward. We were able to work with our main supplier to generate a spreadsheet of parts we routinely used. With the help of Intelligent Office, we were able to import and validate our parts list quite quickly and easily. Between the normal flow of jobs, we spent the next week getting familiar with the new software and workflow. Since the new digital workflow mirrored our normal process it didn’t take very long to learn how to add a new client, book a job, complete it and finally invoice and take payment. After agreeing on a set of “scheduling rules” and establishing a list of “simple jobs”, Intelligent Office began estimating and booking jobs directly.

Results

During the first month 59% of all incoming calls were managed without forwarding or any owner interruption. We believe this was a result of the thorough and thoughtful new client onboarding process employed by Intelligent Office. A survey of clients working with the new ‘virtual assistant’ revealed a high level of satisfaction. Overall they were very pleased that whenever they called, the phone was answered and their basic questions were answered without transfers or having to leave a voicemail and wait for a response. Over the next two months we saw a constant increase in the number of calls that Intelligent Office was able to manage without any assistance. Experiencing the significant benefit of fewer interruptions and very positive feedback from clients we encouraged and enabled Intelligent Office to manage even more calls. After four months, the number of incoming calls managed without forwarding increased to 98%. (I don’t believe this is sustainable however a testament of what may be possible.)

While it’s too soon to provide final results, this is what we have observed to date:

  • Billable hours have noticeably increased as a result of fewer distractions on the job site, Intelligent Office being able to estimate and book simple jobs and a much more efficient invoicing process. (A few minutes to take a call here and there really do add up!)
  • We estimate that as many as 60 to 70 more billable hours per month are available (& being realized). We have been able to increase the number of jobs taken since we are able to complete more jobs within the same amount of time.
  • Our initial goal was to enable Intelligent Office to estimate and book from 10% to 15% of our (simple) jobs. This past month, 70% of our total number of jobs were successfully booked without any intervention.
  • This was completed without increasing employee count and the owner’s hours at work have not increased.
    • We have seen an increase in top line revenue due to our ability to complete more jobs with the additional billable hours. Based on the estimated increase in billable hours and monthly cost of the service, we estimate a return of between 7X and 10X, a great contribution to our bottom line.
    • More flexibility and freedom to manage the business or increase personal time has been confirmed. (The business owner has been seen spending more time relaxing and with his family!)
    • Intelligent Office manages all HR related tasks (hiring/firing/training, no additional payroll, no additional employee management etc.) associated with their service.

Additional Benefits

As a result of the support provided by Intelligent Office and change from a paper to digital process, we have discovered a number of additional benefits we hadn’t anticipated.

Our business is more differentiated

  • Every call is answered during business hours and most of the time callers have their questions answered and/or service booked “on the spot”. We find that this is very unusual for most small trades businesses.
  • Interruptions while on a job site or during meetings with clients have been eliminated. Clients/prospects seem to very much appreciate the attention and focus we provide while meeting and/or talking with them.

Book more business

  • By being able to work uninterrupted on the jobsite and changing from paper to a digital process , we have become much more efficient. This has allowed us to grow the business without adding additional resources.
  • We have increased after hours & expedite associated revenue. Intelligent Office has been much better than the business owner at “following the rules” when it comes to after hour services.

Reduced stress

  • The business owner is able to focus more on what he enjoys doing (and makes the business the most money) without being concerned about missing new job opportunities.
  • The invoicing process has become much faster and easier. It results in invoices being completed before leaving the job site in most cases. Since invoicing is not something the business owner enjoys or is very efficient in doing it often takes longer and creates frustration.

Create additional time

  • These changes have not only transformed the business itself, it has also rejuvenated the owner and created additional free time. It’s now much easier to think about other ways to improve and grow the business, spend time with the family or take some “Me Time”.

The business is more valuable

  • Updating business practices.
    • Processes are better defined and more easily transferrable.
    • Processes are more efficient, creating more potential billable hours.
    • The new process and tools (business software) have made the business much more scalable. Now additional workers/trucks/crews can easily be added without a significant increase in time and effort.
  • Delegating routine tasks
    • Delegating tasks that do not require the owner’s attention make the overall business more efficient and increase the revenue potential for the business.
      • The business is less dependent on the owner, reducing the risk to someone buying the business.
    • Customer/caller satisfaction has significantly increased by providing live answer any time a call is received. In most cases the caller can have their questions answered or job booked with a single call. This creates significant company differentiation, especially among small trades businesses.

To start your own journey or learn more about how to improve your business and life, contact us today at 952-252-8600.

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