Ask, listen, then improve. That’s the advice Anthony Lack would give anyone who’s recently taken over the family trades business.
It’s sound advice from someone who took hold of a 48-year-old electrical business and managed to double the number of employees, and get close to doubling revenue, in a few short years.
Taking the reins
It all started in 2011 when Anthony took over E J Lack Electrical from his Dad. The business was humming along nicely, having built up a loyal customer base in and around the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn.
And Anthony had, in some shape or form, been involved in the business since he was just three months old. He knew it well.
He knew his Dad had laid the foundations for success but there was still plenty of room to make E J Lack Electrical more efficient than before.
So, where did he start?
Talk with your team
Anthony’s first step was sitting down and chatting with everyone in the team to find out what they loved, and what frustrated them, about working at E J Lack Electrical.
It’s not exactly rocket science, but as Anthony says, it’s a great way to figure out what’s not working in the business and come up with appropriate solutions.
His team felt they were doing a great job on site and at keeping their customers up-to-date, which was evidenced in the great feedback they were getting. After all, “you can’t stay in business for nearly 50 years without doing right by your clients".
What wasn’t working was the paperwork. His team was getting frustrated that they didn’t have enough room to clearly write labour descriptions and materials on the paper job cards.
So, Anthony went about updating the job card to make sure it was as clear, and easy to use as possible.
Chatting with the team isn’t a one-time exercise either. Anthony keeps those conversations going with his team so he can fix those small, niggly issues, before they cause too many headaches.
Anthony says it’s helped to improve his business systems and keep his team happy.
“You have to address any team ideas, or concerns, so that together you can consistently improve.”
Get rid of paperwork (just not overnight)
Next on the agenda was phasing out the paper-based system the business relied on to keep track of all jobs.
“Dad had been using a very simple system of seven in-trays. So paperwork was always put in specific trays, as much as paperwork ever can be,” says Anthony.
Much of the paperwork his team filled out was full of irrelevant notes that hadn’t even been useful to his Dad for the last 15 years.
"Occasionally you’d discover paperwork from a completed job, to be invoiced, which had been forgotten for a few weeks - all because it had been placed in the incorrect in-tray."
So, like the job cards that didn’t have enough room to write down the job description, Anthony went through all the forms to make sure they were as clear and user-friendly as possible. He also reduced the number of in-trays from 7 to just 3.
But, Anthony knew even the most user-friendly paper-based system wasn’t the best way to run a business.
When cloud computing and job management software came on the scene in 2014, he started shopping for a modern solution to the paperwork minefield.
After narrowing down a list of 15 cloud-based job management systems, he finally settled on one built with tradies in mind. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dud, causing Anthony and his team too many headaches than it was worth.
He stayed with it for a year before switching to Fergus's smart job management software and hasn’t looked back.
"Visually, it’s so easy to follow. With the other job management software, there was no assigning tasks to people or adding due dates, it was just a straight noticeboard. Whereas with Fergus you can assign a task to a person or multiple people, or you can assign it to a job. All those intricacies mean you can complete the job so much easier."
Since taking on Fergus, Anthony estimates the amount of time he and his staff spend on data entry has shrunk by 30-50%. The amount of physical paper lying around the office, such as invoices, and delivery notes, is also down by at least 95%.
He says Fergus has given him the time to work on building the business rather than being bogged down in paperwork. And it has worked. His headcount has gone from 4 to 6 employees and his revenue has almost doubled.
"Much of that growth has happened since I took on Fergus. I find Fergus an intuitive and simply great system."
Fergus is also helping Anthony track an extra 10-15 hours of labour hours every week, hours which had been “missed” and not charged out.
As well as capturing labour costs, Fergus is also helping Anthony track materials and purchase orders more efficiently. He says he’s now invoicing 5-15% more in materials which were missed entirely before Fergus.
Another step Anthony would recommend to any new business owner is joining a professional group. In his case, he went with Master Electricians Australia.
He says they’ve given him great industry-specific advice, kept his business up-to-date with Health & Safety, and kept him in the loop with industry updates.
If you’d like to find a smarter and easier way to run your trades business, sign up for a free trial of Fergus smart job management software.