We had a leaky washing machine a couple of weeks ago, and while I know that I am pretty handy, I also know my limits. Plumbing is beyond my limits. My wife called a local small business that she found on Yelp. When the guys came out (there were two of them), I got to talking to them because I’m always interested in other small, service-based businesses. It turns out that one of the two guys was the owner and the other was his technician, the company’s only other employee. We discussed how difficult it is for him to be in the field all day and continue to run a business, and that there are so many other things he needs to be doing.
It is just like so many integrators I know of that are small shops with two or three employees. When you own a smaller company it can be very easy to slip into the role of doer—lending a hand on the pre-wire, setting up the AVR, troubleshooting the HDMI extender, or configuring the whole-home audio. And the argument is usually that it is too expensive to hire someone else to do the work so that you, the owner, can step back and run the business. I believe, however, that it is too expensive not to hire someone else to staff up. If the owner is in the field all day, he can’t work on marketing, sales, operations, and finance. He can’t grow the business, which in the long run costs a lot more than an entry-level installer in the field (or even a decent mid-level tech).
Not only is there the risk of missed business opportunities, but we also need to lead our employees, and it can be hard to lead from the ground. Yes, it does make sense to be in the field on occasion to stay current with what is happening, to connect with your teams, and to have face-time on installs with the clients.
I try to be there for the start and end of every job, but I don’t need, or want, to be on site for every facet of everything that is going on. One strategy I have been using, since many smaller projects only last one day and to be there at the beginning and the end means being nearby, is that I use Regus office space so I can find a place to work almost anywhere in New York City and still be close by the job. I can make phone calls, catch up on emails, work on marketing plans, check our accounts receivable, and write proposals all from an office environment. And if I need to meet with a client, I can even rent out a conference room. Another option I used to use before I found Regus was to use a local Starbucks. There was good coffee, free Wi-Fi, and plenty of power outlets. I was able to get a lot done there as well. The key is that I was working on generating more work and more revenue, not on pulling wire or working on the technical aspects of a system when I didn’t have to.
Being a leader doesn’t mean being on site every day and showing everyone how to do everything. That’s the job of a foreman. A leader commands an organization, sets the strategy and the goals of the company. You can’t do that from a construction site every day. It is well worth the extra payroll to take on another body or two to assist in the field so you can grow your business. Try it out—hire a day laborer for a week and see how much more you get done and how many more projects you land, and the better your work-life balance is.