9 Vital Practices for Running a Successful HVAC Contracting Business

1. Plan:

a. The first step in any business is to set goals for the company and define how you will achieve them. Before you begin the working the numbers, review and, if necessary, update your mission, your vision for the next five years, and your unique selling proposition. What is your target for sales, gross profit, and net profit? Ideally, you are departmentalized and can break these down by department.
b. This is a seasonal business. Some months are better than others, so break it down by month. To achieve the revenue, how many service calls will be required? How many installations?
c. This leads to manpower requirements. How many technicians will you need? How many installers? How many salespeople? Remember to look at the calendar and make adjustments for holidays and weekends.

2. Analyze:

a. Every month, you should review full financial statements (many believe this should be done weekly). This includes your balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement. Calculate your rations, especially your liquidity rations. Companies do not close because they are not profitable. They close because they run out of cash.
b. In addition, you want to track other key metrics like gross profit, you average service call ticket, average installation sale, sales per employee, sales versus budget and last year, labor as a percent of service, labor as a percent of installations, service agreements customers as a percent of total active customers, and so on. Track all of these weekly or monthly.
c. Track incoming service calls, leads, service revenue, installation sales, new service agreements, non-renewal service agreements, total service agreements, and cash balance daily. Assign responsibility for the preparation of a daily dashboard to your bookkeeper. Look over these at the start of each day.

3. Communicate:

a. As business owner you are the chief communicator and evangelist for your company. A significant part of your job is external and internal communication.
b. Externally, you should represent your company in your community. Get involved in community organizations and events. Yes, this pulls you away from your company, but it also pulls the community to your company.
c. Internally, you should set the tone for the organization. If you are positive, your team will be positive. If you are gloomy, people will fear the worst. Your organization reflects you.
You owe it to your co-workers to let them know how they are performing individually and as a team. Take some time to talk with each person who reports to you to know how he or she is performing.

4. Recruit:

a. Maybe the most important role of a business owner is recruiting co-workers. Always be on the lookout for talent. Keep a list of people you think could work in key positions in your organization. If you aren’t ready to hire someone today, keep in touch with the individual so you can pick up the phone tomorrow when you are ready.b. Interview anyone, anytime. Recruiting should account for 25% to 30% of your time. Look for people with great attitudes and mechanical aptitude for your field service and installation positions. Send them to the various schools available in the industry that will get them up to speed quickly on basic service work.

5. Appreciate:

a. As we hire more Gen Y and Millennials, our approach to management must change. These are individuals who received participation trophies as kids. Like the kids of Lake Woebegone, every single one of them is above average. They have grown up being told how special and wonderful they are and expect that to continue.
b. You may think a paycheck is thanks enough, but this generation thinks not. If you want to keep them engaged on your behalf, show them appreciation. In fact, treat them like a volunteer workforce.

6. Measure:

a. Pick your sport – bowling, golf, you name it. If you are not keeping score, you will play sloppy. Once you keep score, especially if others see it, your performance will improve. The same thing happens with your technicians, salespeople, and customer service representatives (CSRs). Once they know their performance is being monitored, it improves.
b. Require your people to report their results. Display the numbers on a monitor or white board, and watch the results improve. It’s like magic.
c. Want to see greater improvements? Join one of the groups where technicians are compared with other technicians from across the country. Suddenly, the company hotshot is not so hot. This will drive top performers insane, and they will move mountains to move up the rankings.

7. Incent:

a. Business writer Michael LeBoeuf said the greatest management principle is “what gets rewarded, gets done.” Incentivize your people’s performance and you will get more of it. Yes, pay for performance.
b. Pay wages for time on the job and you will get time on the job. Pay incentives for productivity and that’s what you will get.
c. Of course the challenge is to examine your incentives for unintended consequences. Make sure you’re not incentivizing undesirable behavior. For example, when a contractor split the diagnostic, or response charge, with his technicians, he discovered that the technician were incented to run as many calls, as fast as possible, instead of slowing down, being thorough, and providing great service. Of course, not all incentives are monetary. Some people respond better to time off than additional income. Others simply crave recognition. It’s amazing what some people will do for a $10 plaque.

8. Delegate:

a. The most difficult lesson for many contractors is learning to let go. Even if you are the best at everything, you cannot accomplish everything on your own. You must learn to delegate. Control freaks take note: delegation does not require micromanagement. Accept that people may not perform a task as well as you, as fast as you, or exactly the same way.
b. Unless you learn how to delegate, you’ll never grow beyond your personal capacity. You’ll never have a company. You will only own a job. You cannot sell a job. You can only sell a company.
c. Your job as owner is to build a team and processes so that your presence is not necessary. Only then will you have a sustainable business.

9. Learn:

a. Society is not static. Business is not static. You cannot be static either. You must embark on a lifelong quest to seek more knowledge and new and better ways of growing your business. Your personal growth will be reflected in your company’s growth.
b. Read the trade magazines. Read business books. Attend conferences, seminars, and dealer meetings. Join contractor groups. Never before has our industry had such a wealth of information available. Moreover, the information available tomorrow will far exceed the information available today. If you do not keep up with the state-of-the-art, you will get left behind.