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Five tips for handling growth : Our article in the Bunnings Trade Issue (March 2016)

Andrewe Brown (commonly known as Brownie) had been an electrician for more than 10 years when, in 2006, he got together with a couple of other electrician mates to form a buying group. One thing led to another and the new company, NZ Trade Group, started looking at how technology could help with some of the tedious and time-consuming tasks around quoting, ordering, job management, and invoicing.

A decade later, NZ Trade Group has 110 trade members, a cloud-based software and services package, System Fox, and also offers business training and networking opportunities.

Having the right tools (physical and technological) is important, Brownie says, but one of the hardest things for small business owners, particularly in boom times, is making sure they have their finances, business planning, goal setting and people management worked out.

“These can be dangerous times. You have plenty of work, so you hire guys, maybe get a new van; you end up spending money to enable your growth, but if you don’t get it right, that can kill your business.”

Here are Brownie’s top five tips for dealing with business growth.

Keep it slow
Grow one bite at a time. If you have the whole apple in your mouth at once, you are going to choke. Unplanned growth is terrible. Ask yourself if you are ready to grow or if you wouldn’t be better staying as a one-man band and just taking on an apprentice.

Managing people is crucial
You used to work on your own, now you have five guys; it’s a totally different skillset, and you need to learn how to remotely manage people. From experience it’s easy to end up being a headless chicken putting out fires. You need to supervise people until they meet your quality standards and once they are there, empower them. Remember, hiring people is actually a cost until they are trained up.

Keep control of quality
As a business owner, you will have quality standards, but these can be hard to maintain when you have lots of work on, and new people. Your biggest risk is someone else doing bad work using your brand, and your company getting the reputation of being a cowboy. A basic room-by-room, job-by-job checklist can make a difference, particularly with the more repetitive jobs, and can make sure your employees don’t miss something important. Don’t leave the job until you have ticked off every point on the checklist. And the last point on the list is to leave the site cleaner than when you started.

Know your numbers, always
The last thing I wanted to do when I started my company was to go and do business training - but it’s the most important thing I missed, and the main thing I would do differently if I could turn back the clock. We made decisions we wouldn’t have done if we had known more about running a business. Not pricing jobs correctly can be the biggest killer. And doing jobs on a ridiculous margin. Never try to match someone else’s price - nine times out of 10 it won’t be apples for apples. We did that on a big job once and it took a long time to claw back the money we lost. Back yourself on quality and tell the customer you can’t do a good job at that price.

Take advantage of technology
Too many tradespeople are still doing everything manually, with word or excel, when there is great software which can take the hassles out of quoting, scheduling staff, tracking jobs, reconciling materials for a job, invoicing, and accounting. You are looking for a package which reconciles everything, so you only have to enter details once and everything flows through - linking your accounting to customer Invoices and payments, your bank account, and your operational system – staff time, reconciliation of materials etc. Make sure the system is mobile-friendly, so staff can input information straight into the system from the job.