Many years ago I studied martial arts, specifically an art called Chinese Kenpo. When I started my martial arts journey, I was told it would take five years to get a black belt. Despite that, I pressed on and trusted in their process. The karate school had done a lot of work throughout the years to document, develop and refine its curriculum, which involved about 17 discreet belts during the process. Sure enough, in about five years I had achieved a 1st-degree black belt. This was my first full appreciation for the power of process, and I began to apply what I had experienced to my remodeling business.
The really compelling aspect of embracing process in your remodeling business is that it is one of those areas of business and life that, if you give it some time, will give you back many more times the value of that time. In addition, it can be fun to do. Henry Ford, who is fairly well regarded as someone who leveraged the power of process, said: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” That is the essence of putting process to work for you and your business. Taking a little time to look at what you’re doing, documenting it and refining it is a worthwhile cause. Here is a short list of benefits you could see from your efforts.
Higher profitability. I always like to say the remodeling business is a top-line business. That is, we make our money at production, and the best way to make more money on projects is to focus on gross profit. If you have a well-defined process from sales through production, you will undoubtedly see positive results in your gross profit dollars.
Greater efficiency. A well-defined process allows you and your team to move more quickly. Many remodelers who have worked in the field have experienced that special feeling of efficiency when working with certain other craftspeople, where working together is so seamless and efficient you almost don’t need to talk and the amount of work you were able to do was extraordinary. Having a documented process will create a similar experience on the management side.
Ability to refine. A good process comes from documenting, executing and refining. A process allows you to measure what you are doing; thus, you will be able to not only see and feel incremental benefits, but actually quantify them. The more you refine, the more predictable the results will be. You will notice you have more time, less stress and a more fulfilling business.
A more valuable business. A business with documented and measurable processes provides a basis for succession or sale, providing the owner with an exit strategy. For any exit strategy, most experts suggest you allow at least five years to prepare. This is a rule of thumb and can give you an insight into how long it takes to get the entire business into proper shape. It can be done more quickly, but it can’t be done properly overnight, either.
All of the aforementioned benefits are powerful, but the most compelling one I have witnessed in the remodeling business is that you can use your developed process to sell more projects. Many of our clients are professionals and understand the concept of process. If you can present your process to them effectively and they like it, where does that leave your competitors? This is selling process, not projects.
Because most remodelers are what I call “owner-leaders” — they run and actively engage in the day-to-day activities of their business — time comes at a premium. What are some good ways to begin documenting or implementing process into your remodeling firm? I have found consistently taking small steps is best. Above all, do not allow yourself or your team to get stuck.
One very good way to get started is to purchase a bunch of oversized sticky notes. Begin by identifying the key steps or milestones in your business from the first call from a prospective client. Write each key step down on a sticky note (just the step, not a description) and place them left to right in chronological order on a wall. You might want to do only your lead-taking process or sales process by itself first. Once you are happy with the milestones, add sticky notes below your main milestones that list what happens at each. It also is good if you have a team to let them participate in this process.
Give yourself a little time to think about where your business and your processes are and how they affect your enjoyment of your remodeling business. Then think about investing some time in yourself to create, implement and refine them. As Robert M. Pirsig wrote in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”
Sam Imhof is principal at S. William Imhof and Associates and is an associate of the Mark Richardson Group. He has been in the remodeling and building material industries since 1984 and specializes in helping companies grow.