3 things successful trade businesses do well

The major issues facing all small businesses tend to be about controlling costs and effectively managing job schedules and staff. Here is our expert guide to beating those challenges, staying profitable and keeping your workforce happy.

Managing operational costs

“Any business that does not have accurate accounting or an owner who understands the figures is destined for doom,” writes Andrew Griffiths in his bestselling The Big Book of Small Business. Griffiths says it’s a lesson that must be heeded by owners and managers of trades businesses, where a lot of work is done away from home office.

“It’s true of any business that struggles with the administration side of things,” he says. “They think they might deliver a great product or service, but the poor admin will ultimately let them down. It kind of comes back and bites them on the bum with lost revenue.”

Griffiths says technological advances mean there is no longer an excuse for poor financial management. “You can invoice or reconcile from your phone; you can do everything you need to do from your phone. It takes you two minutes. You don’t need anyone else to do it. In fact, there’s no reason for anyone else to do it.”

There are a number of excellent accountancy software options available from companies such as Xero, MYOB and Quickbooks. By teaming one of these up with effective field service management software, such as GeoOp, all jobs, customers and financial information are in one place.

Managing scheduling and workflow

Companies that still use whiteboards and paper job sheets on clipboards have been left well behind in the efficiency race. There’s a fair chance they’re prone to making scheduling errors and their staff will spend less time doing their jobs and more time doing paperwork.

Customer satisfaction levels also suffer because tradies can’t tell clients if they’re running late (or if they can’t make it at all), can’t easily feed the work completed into a central database or order parts while onsite, and can’t send invoices for their work immediately.

Mobile job management software, such as GeoOp, has changed the way trades businesses operate. Complete real-time job, customer and staff management is inexpensive, available to all staff on their mobile devices and integrates with other business software. Other options to consider are list management tools such as Asana, which can help managers assign jobs and manage workflow, or iAuditor for building checklists or inspection templates. The app Expensify is good for staff to keep control of work-related costs.

Hiring and retention

Finding good staff is a challenge for any business, and getting recommendations from trusted friends and colleagues can be the best way to find quality people. But the hardest aspect of managing staff is keeping them motivated, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Managers need to deal with each employee differently, because each has different needs.

Griffiths says some owners and managers in small businesses who are good at what they do often find it difficult to share their knowledge and let others participate. “They have to get better at systemisation, they’ve got to get better at technology, they’ve got to get better at communication,” he says. “They’ve got to have a better strategy around getting people into their business to work for them.”

Many online training tools are available to help your workforce learn job-specific tasks. Cloud-based tools, for instance, often publish videos on YouTube to explain to users how to use their software.

Owners and managers not only need to provide the right technology tools for their workers, they need to invest time and money in training. They might need to do on-the-job training themselves or bring in specialist trainers, some of whom may be available through companies that supply tools and services. Retaining quality staff is not just about paying them more but providing greater work opportunities and responsibilities.

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