Best Practices, Operations, V7I3

Putting It All Together

(Photo courtesy of Myers Barn Shop)

For some of you, opening your own business was a lifelong dream. For others, it was more organic, perhaps not a dream so much as something you sort of fell into. Regardless of how the business started, how does it look now? Is the business healthy and thriving? 

As a shed building company owner, you’ve likely got most of your systems in place. But is there more that you could do? The short answer is probably.

Let’s look at what that actually means.

Most business owners would agree that all companies need a few things to be successful: A good product, a good staff, and the tools necessary to get it done. That’s the foundation. 

The stronger your foundation, the stronger your business. And you can’t really have one element and not the others. They are all interdependent.

BUILDING A STRONG FOUNDATION

Did you put together a business plan before you launched your company? My guess is that many of you didn’t. 

In my days as a consultant, I suggested that every business owner goes through the exercise of completing a business plan. Not because you need the document to do business, but because working through a business plan will help you identify exactly what you want to accomplish and the steps you need to take to get there. 

It’s a great document to revisit from time to time as well, just to help stay on track and realize potential areas for improvement. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that we don’t see things that might be obvious with a fresh set of eyes.

You don’t need to have a business degree to put a plan together. A business plan should have the following components:

1. Executive Summary: This is just an overview of what is included in the plan.

2. Business Overview: A description of your business.  The legal structure, business formation (LLC, Sole Proprietor, etc.), location, and means of doing business (online, storefront, other opportunities?).

3. Products and Services: What are you going to offer? There are so many types of sheds. Are you going to offer one version, or are you going to offer ten different designs, shed kits, or something else?

4. Operation Plan: How will your business function? What is the physical setup? Staff responsibilities and departments.

5. Market and Competitive Analysis: Define your target market/audience. Who are your competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses? I like to complete a SWOT analysis which stands for –

a. Strengths: What are your strengths? What do you do really well or know really well? Do you have a unique product that no one else has?

b. Weaknesses: Any obvious areas for improvement, say you don’t know how to build a shed, for example.

c. Opportunities: What are the greatest opportunities for success? 

d. Threats: Threats to your success, such as the cost of materials. 

Also, think about your unique selling proposition (what makes you different from everyone else?).

6. Sales and Marketing: What is your pricing structure? How are you going to reach people to market and sell your product?

7. Management Team: Who are the key members of your team, and what are their roles?

8. Financial Plan: Start-up costs, maintenance cost projections, an ongoing budget that includes all operating expenses (utilities, rent, salaries, materials, insurance, etc.).

9. Short- and Long-Term Plan: Where would you like the business to be in two years? Five? 10?

There are no wrong answers when putting together a business plan because it is yours. And even if your business is established, there are likely pieces of this exercise that will help you focus on potential areas for improvement.

When asked what he recommends a new business owner do if they are thinking of breaking into the shed industry, David Myers of Myers Barn Shop in Maryland says, “Know the clientele base you want to reach and build the buildings they want to buy. Not everyone wants just a shed. 

“Know what is different about your buildings (there are a lot of sheds out there and they are not all equal). Give your clients options and make your products so that they sell themselves.”

Myers has made a concerted effort to understand his target market and what they may be shopping for. It’s an important part of the planning process. He places so much emphasis on providing options to clients that he spends a good deal of time creating client quotes that reflect the manpower hours necessary for the custom plans and build.

Remove the opportunity for surprises as much as you can by planning ahead. That’s what the business plan recommendation is about. It’s never a good idea to operate your business impulsively. You’ll spend more money than you need to, and you’ll make more mistakes. 

CONSTRUCT SOMETHING OF QUALITY

Another important piece of the foundation is the products that you offer—quality matters. Figure out what it is you want to offer and then do it to the best of your ability. 

If you’re going to focus on a specific type of shed, then come up with options that consumers can choose from to make it their own. This may be a time when more isn’t necessarily better. Make sure that you can deliver on the options you offer.

Quality in processes is also essential. This applies to processes both in the office and on the production floor. I’m not sure that anyone enjoys paperwork, but those records and files are an integral part of your business. Processes on the floor should also be clearly defined. 

WHAT’S IN YOUR SHED?

I’m sure you’ve heard the importance of building a good team. It’s not always easy, though, right? Insurance and labor costs have skyrocketed. And finding reliable people to work with you can be a challenge. 

Start by setting an example. If you work hard, communicate with your team frequently and thoroughly, treat them fairly, and be honest, your team will likely copy your actions. 

The costs of employee turnover are high because you have to spend time training new people and working with a less productive team if you’re short-handed. Happy employees will stick around, and that offers your business some stability and cost savings.

If you’re unsure of how to make your team happy, ask them. It’s amazing what a morale boost it is when the boss gets their team involved. By doing this, you’ll give them a voice and let them know that what’s important to them matters. Be sure to follow through on any promises you make.

All of those sayings like “You’re only as good as your word” and “Lead by example” have been around for years for a reason.

I spoke with James Burkholder of Sunrise Buildings in Missouri. He told me that one of the biggest challenges in running an efficient shop is that processes aren’t as streamlined as they could be. 

But he asked his employees for suggestions, and they’ve made changes for the better. This is a great way to build a stronger team and a more efficient workplace. 

Even so, Burkholder admits that it’s sometimes a challenge to keep his team motivated. He pays his people by the hour and recognizes that they may be happier if he compensated them differently. It’s something that he is hoping to improve upon.

Make sure that your team has the training and tools they need to succeed. Your upfront cost may be a little higher. Still, the increased productivity of someone who thoroughly understands what is expected and needed from them combined with the tools necessary to finish the work will go a very long way to make your business run well.

ABOUT THOSE TOOLS 

I just mentioned the importance of the proper tools to do the work. Burkholder says that a few specific tools are a necessity in this business if you’re just starting out: a multi-head chop saw and a multi-head truss press for steel truss plates.

Obviously, these aren’t the only tools needed to work efficiently in this industry, and there are too many to list here. With technology as it is, product improvements and introductions happen regularly. It is worthwhile to attend trade shows, read, and talk to colleagues about tools that help them be more efficient in their work. 

That’s not to say that the old tried and true tools don’t work. It just means that new tools may offer new ways to work efficiently, saving you money in the long run.

GET, AND KEEP, BUSINESS

We’ve talked about your business’ foundation, but there are even efficiencies to be gained in dealing with clients and prospective clients.

In marketing, there is something known as the “Rule of 7.” This rule simply means that a prospect usually needs to see or hear about your business seven times before they’ll take action with that business. 

Fortunately, when shopping for a shed, many consumers will ask Google for the names of shed shops near them, and they’ll contact the first few that pop up. That simplifies things a bit for you if you’re in the top few sites that appear in the search.

Part of that planning process mentioned earlier is setting a budget. Marketing is an important piece of that. 

A clean, well-thought-out website is something every business needs if they’re trying to sell a product or a service. Yes, there is a cost involved in the set-up. However, long-term, it will create cost savings in new client acquisitions, especially if your site is optimized to get your name at the top of the Google list. 

Scott Cook, CEO of QuickBooks, says, “Instead of focusing on the competition, focus on the customer.” 

The importance of customer service can’t be overstated, no matter where you are in the process with a client prospect. 

Myers says that if your business is run well and efficiently, it will have an effect on the confidence and happiness of the employees and that he believes clients can tell when you don’t have it together. Make sure that your customers are treated with respect and fairness.

When it comes to promotion, word of mouth is the best advertising you can have. That, combined with a good website, will enable you to focus on growing your business—yes, making you more efficient.

PUT THE ROOF ON IT

Your ability to adapt to change is a tool that you should always have in your toolbox. Burkholder says that “in this day and age, you have to be organized and efficient to succeed.” 

The best way to adapt and increase efficiency is through preparation and planning, good processes, quality products and service, and a team that is invested.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Current Issue

June/July 2024