Residential Systems

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ForresterTech's 10 Lessons Learned from Business Makeover

By Jeremy J. Glowacki January 9,2013

The ForresterTech team, back row (l-r) Ben Forrester, Ed Mills, Thad Forrester, and Dustin Willis. Front row (l-r) Chris Allison, Wayne Pierce, Robert Gann .
A little over a year ago, Residential Systems embarked on a partnership with respected industry consultants Ryan Brown, from Media Environment Design, and Leslie Shiner, from The ShinerGroup, who agreed to mentor one lucky winner of the magazine’s inaugural Resi Business Makeover contest. A few months later Ben and Thad Forrester, co-owners of Springfield, Missouri’s ForresterTech, had begun the challenging, but rewarding, process of taking their fledgling custom integration company to the next level.

Checking in on ForresterTech as their project winds down, Ben Forrester said that it was looking like ForresterTech’s books would be in the black at the end of 2012, which he called “a very exciting prospect.”

Ben attributes this financial milestone directly to the help Residential Systems provided through Brown and Shiner. “I can’t fully express the difference this help has made to our business,” he said. “We still have a long way to go, but we have definitely come a long way as well.”

As Brown and Shiner wind down their generous consultation work with ForresterTech, Residential Systems asked Ben to offer his top 10 lessons from the past year. He was very democratic in his assessment, assigning five lessons to each of his two mentors. Next month, we’ll interview Brown and Shiner to glean their own post mortem assessment of ForresterTech’s Business Makeover.

Top 5 Lessons Learned from Ryan Brown

1 CRM Software is Key
Ryan helped us implement Zoho and it has been the single best improvement throughout the process.

2 Track Service Calls
We easily do twice as much service work as I thought we did. We were letting thousands of dollars worth of service work go unbilled. We are also identifying sales opportunities with the service work and flowing that information back into our CRM software.

3 Software Tools are Only as Good as Your Processes to Utilize Them
Doing things right takes more time; we definitely understand that on the install side of things, but the same applies for back-office operations as well. It takes more time to enter all of the correct information into a case, or into D-Tools that initial time. The efficiency gained the next 1-100 times is well worth the initial extra effort.

4 Proposal Software is Expensive and Time-Consuming, but Worth It
Properly entered information into your proposal generation software (D-Tools in our case) makes all the difference in the world. With accurate, fully burdened labor costs, and properly entered equipment costs, we can get an accurate gauge of how much money we can anticipate making on a project. We currently aren’t at a point to measure how well we actually do on a project, but we are actively working on that step.

5 Take Time to Properly Train Yours elf and Your Staff on Your Software
It is a very good idea to get help properly setting up the software that you plan on utilizing, so you use it correctly.

Top 5 Lessons Learned from Leslie Shiner

1 Hire an Accountant
Unless you have some piece of paper (or enough cash in the bank) to prove that you are the financial guru that you think you are, get help with your finances.

2 Know Your Labor Costs
The idea for this makeover is born out of the show Restaurant Impossible, and as Robert Irvine says, “Know your food costs.” After working for several sessions with Leslie, I was able to figure out a pretty good estimate for our fully burdened labor costs. It was almost exactly twice what we were figuring for costs for an hour of labor, and dramatically affects overall project profitability. With the right costs figured in, we can accurately estimate projects and set labor rates.

3 Get Help Setting Up Your Chart of Accounts
In an attempt to gain more detail, we ended up breaking the information into such small parts, it provided no real meaningful information. For our new chart of accounts, less is more.

4 If Your Balance Sheet Makes No Sense, Something is Wrong.
Understanding the financial side of your business is the key to your long-term success. Regular financial meetings definitely help.

5 Don’t be Afraid to Start All Over
If things are a total mess with your books, as was the case with our Quickbooks data, don’t be afraid to start all over. In 2013 we are starting over with a new Quickbooks file, new chart of accounts, etc. The new books will give us real business information, instead of a bunch of numbers.