This article was written by Louis Cole, founder and president of Emecole, Inc. the precursor of Emecole Metro LLC.
When a basement or crawl space contractor fails, it hurts a lot of people: Homeowners, the contractor’s employees and the families of those workers. Failure often occurs when the owner of the business gets in over his head. Like a boat in rough seas, the enterprise capsizes from too many rogue waves – deep debt, an economic downturn or an unsatisfied customer. But it doesn’t have to go that way. That same contractor can prosper even in tough times if he learns to control growth and get help from trusted advisors.
Now let’s talk about how contractors can aspire to new heights when they learn to hire the right people.
It can happen to the best of basement pre-finishing waterproofing contractors and crawl space sealing and insulation installers. Their business naturally expands beyond their skill set. Are they experts in sealing out moisture and protecting indoor air quality? Absolutely. But maybe they are not so good managing a work force that has grown from three buddies to 25 office and field workers.
My business is now more than 20 years old. Learning how to manage growth has been every bit as important as knowing how to develop concrete crack repair epoxies and polyurethane foams. The same for Roy Spencer, owner of Perma-seal Basement Systems in Downers Grove, Il., who over the 30-year span of his career has learned much about how and when to expand.
“It’s a big leap going from a one-truck operation to handing the keys to someone else and sending them on their way. The first guy who worked with me – the poor kid – I kept him by my side for a year and a half before I let him out of my sight. This guy is going to be representing me, my company – and I’m not going to be there. That’s scary. It’s important that new hires understand the mission. And it’s important that it start with your first hire: they thoroughly get schooled and trained in your company philosophy and culture – how you want the customer treated. No short-cuts.”
Roy makes clear that proper training of all new personnel is a key to success. But if you’re doing all the training, who is going to manage the business? Most of us start out by learning our trade. It’s a challenge to also master job estimates and sales presentations. Hiring someone with polished sales skills can bring in a lot of business. Yet by delegating that responsibility, the contractor is further removing himself from the control center. Therefore, hiring the right person is crucial to his success.
Roy began by himself and then added a few employees before hiring a manager. “When I hired a sales manager I looked at it as an opportunity: he’s trained in skills that I don’t have. But now here I am hiring a guy who speaks a language that I don’t. He may sound good, but how do I know if he knows what he’s talking about? You make mistakes at first. It’s easy to be misled.”
Mistakes are only painful if you don’t learn something from them. These days when I hire someone new, I include other people in the initial interviews. Roy does the same thing. You want advisors who are conversant in the areas of sales, IT and office management, for example. An advisor can come from many different places: A family member or friend; an old favorite chemistry teacher; or a veteran basement contractor who gave you your first job.
“I network with various colleagues. It’s very cool to learn from others – the best way of compensation, recruiting, hiring and even loading trucks. When a guy’s trying to grow a business, there isn’t any substitute for being able to talk to other people. Networking makes life a lot easier. Learn from other people’s mistakes, not always your own,” Roy says.
I continue a dialogue with all the contractors who use my products, including Roy. I consider them my own personal business library. Start building your own library and watch your expertise, confidence and business grow.