Best Practices, Feature, Operations, V6I3

One Foot on the Gas, One Foot on the Brake

I learned a lot from my Dad growing up. Teaching me to drive, he instructed me to use just my right foot. Press the gas pedal to go or the brake to stop but only use your right foot. A few years later, when sharing business ideas, he told me to manage my business with one foot on the gas, the other foot on the brake. Had I caught my Dad in a contradiction? His point was to be ready for whatever might occur. Be ready for opportunity, press the gas pedal and make the decision to expand. Conversely, know the signs of when to tighten your belt or maintain the status quo, let up, and press the brake. 

Now in retrospect, we should all be operating our businesses in this manner. But let’s be realistic. We get complacent when things are going well, and we don’t always see the signs that our business is changing. Changes are internal or external, but we are asleep at the wheel. We tend to get drowsy from the routine of everything going along okay. Then, a large deer runs out in front of your car, you panic and forget everything you learned before and quickly slam one foot on the brake and the other foot on the gas pedal simultaneously. Confusion ensues for you, your car, and probably the deer who was simply trying to cross the street. 

I believe our economy has seen a deer pop out of nowhere, stare straight at us and us back at the deer. There’s not much time to react. Our economy has been broadsided by an unforeseen force outside our control. What can we do as owners, managers, and shed builders? Here are a few ideas that I focus on during periods of business stress and external forces beyond my control.   

  1. Don’t panic. The worst decisions are made when we are emotional. It takes a lot more than a deer in your headlights to stop a 4,000-pound car. Focus first on areas where your company had momentum before the shutdown. Look for small successes and more of them. 
  2. Pay close attention to details you may have overlooked or forgotten about, things that you know you should be looking at carefully. I call these metrics, others call them key performance indicators, or KPIs. Job costing is a key metric you should review regularly, especially now. Collect as many samples as possible, review them, and then make adjustments in materials, labor and product pricing as needed. Seek expert advice and involve your team members. (For more about job costing check out these two articles from Shed Builder Magazine. “Profit Per Unit” by Coach Thom Finn, June 1, 2017, and “Material Pricing Strategies” by Bradley Kimberlin, October 23, 2019.)
  3. Control overhead expenses and watch inventory levels. Cut out what you can without impacting how your business comes out of this downturn. And, of course, monitor sales and revenue for their impact on your operations. Project your anticipated cash flow for the coming months. Know what you need to sustain operations. You may need to infuse cash back into your business to get through the downturn.
  4. Communicate with your customers regularly. We are all dealing with the same economy but how do your customers view what is going on? Ask them. Listen to their needs. Let them know you care, and you aren’t going to be absent during these times. Be available to assist them in any way that you can. Tough times cause us to find new ways to keep business moving forward and customers happy. Your competitors may give up advertising their businesses, so use this time as an opportunity to gain market share with consistent advertising to customers. 
  5. Be innovative and decisive during tough times. When emotions tell a customer to pull back, they will feel at ease if they see that you and your organization are not panicked or desperate. Your employees read these signs, too. Tough times can be an opportunity to rally your team and bring them closer together. Team unity makes for a better run organization and a better customer experience. 

Now mind you, I am no expert or business guru but it would seem to me that if we get up each day with a positive mindset, trust in God and work hard, we will come through this. But if we are paralyzed by fear of the unknown, we might as well close up shop now and wait it out. If you are like me the latter is never really an option. 

This is a time to look back on our business, assess what you’ve been doing well and areas where you need to improve. Make changes that you put off before that will have immediate impact. You will see a huge payoff later when things improve. 

We will have to fight many battles in this new economy but if we remain calm, use common sense, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that I can already see this light. I hope you do, too. 

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