I have asked many pest control business owners this question, “Who has an operations plan?” About 10% of Them say yes. The other 90% that say no get asked more questions like… Are you a business owner? Are you operating? They tell me they don’t have an operations plan written down but said there was an operations plan in their head.
Here’s the problem with that… every business owner with no written operation plan walks to the door and says to himself, “Hey, I wonder how we should run the business today?” This process of reinventing the wheel will end up consuming all the valuable time of the organization and the business owner. In the name of flexibility and custom one-off solutions to problems, the shoot from the hip guy or gal has doomed themselves to a fire fighting existence.
So, if writing an operations plan is so powerful, why don’t 100% percent of pest control businesses have one? Well, writing an operations plan is a real pain in the ass. It requires hard work, sacrifice, and a deep understanding of your business. Maybe it is this deep understanding of the business that scares people away from a written plan. If you do not have a full understanding of your business and its systems, you will be unable to write it, but nevertheless, don’t let fear hold you back.
The power of an operations plan is that you most likely do not understand your business systems at the beginning of the process, but you will understand them by the time you are done. This is the reason you do the plan. It is not the operations plan itself that is of value, but the process of doing it. Doing an operations plan will force you to refine and tighten your processes. It will also point out the “holes” in your business.
Ben’s business was driving him nuts. He was making money, but nothing ever seemed to work unless he was personally involved. After a great deal of scrutiny, Ben realize that his pest control business was designed around people, not processes. People are not systems. People perform the systems. Ben began crafting and implementing an operations plan. He started creating systems for the hiring and training of technicians. He figured that, if he could hire and train better technicians, many of the issues would disappear… he was right. He then tackled client service and sales processes. After a while, his personal involvement became less important for the business to execute well. As each system was added, Ben gained time to focus on the big issues of the business: “geographic expansion and profitability.” Eventually, Ben’s business became widely successful without his daily involvement.
An operations plan is not something you want to tackle alone, or you will most likely not finish it. There are no template programs to create an operations plan for your particular business. The plan will be custom to your business. You have to start from scratch. Two ways to ensure you finish: hire a business coach to work with you and find a planning buddy in the pest-control industry or another business owner who needs to write a plan as well. Create an accountability system for each other.
Now I know I said that there are no templates for an operations plan. But if you find a good pest-control business coach then they will have the experience and the know how to help you put a plan in place.
An operations plan primarily consist of the systems that run your business. The most common reasons systems fail is the word “should.” Business owners tend to write plans the way things should be done. Should is a very bad word in operational planning. How many things do your employees do the way they should? Don’t answer that question; I already know. Believe it or not, I am not knocking your employees. They are simply human, and humans tend to take the path of least resistance. So, rule number one when creating systems is: work WITH laziness, not AGAINST it.
Here are a couple of examples. First, do you remember when those credit card readers first became available for pay at the pump? Did you ever pull up to the pump, realize it did not have a credit card reader and then proceed to a gas station that did? I know I have. Have you ever waited in the drive-through line 6 cars long when you know there’s no line inside? Have you ever driven around the mall parking lot over and over again when there are clearly open spots way at the back of the lot? These are all examples of how we don’t behave logically, or should I say, when we have not behaved how we SHOULD.
I learned this lesson at my pest-control company. If you’re in the pest-control industry, you’ll understand that most of the guys that we employ as technicians and inspectors aren’t very good at keeping things clean. In fact, sometimes they’re downright slobs. And I can’t stand slobs who have clutter and messy things around them. The trucks are messy the office is messy, the warehouse is messy, the chemical room is messy. (I.e., “it SHOULD be common sense to throw garbage away”). So, I did what any logical pest control business owner would do. I put signs out like, “your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself.” I bitched and moaned at them to clean up their environments almost every day. I talked about how their trucks were the face of the business and that clients make decisions based upon how organized and clean our vehicles are. We set aside time each week during truck checks for the purpose of office cleaning and vehicle cleaning. Then, after implementing all my great ideas/systems, I nearly popped a gasket when walked through the warehouse one day and saw trash thrown everywhere. That same day I decided to do random vehicle checks and saw lunch sacks, other trash, used gloves, empty chemical containers, granule bags that were empty, empty boxes, etc. You can probably imagine how high my blood pressure levels were. Especially since one of the trucks that I inspected was from my Service Manager who was supposed to be leading by example.
Instead of popping a blood vessel in my head, I took a deep breath, and decided to try something radically different. I tripled the number of trash cans in the warehouse. I added multiple trash cans in the chemical room. I put a trashcan next to every desk in the office. In the break room I installed two trash cans. Each bathroom got a trashcan. I put two trash cans in the waiting area. In the meeting/training rooms I put a trashcan at all four corners. The office supply closet got a trash can. On every technician & inspector truck I had three trash cans installed. One in the cab and one on both sides of the back of the trucks. I had two dumpsters installed. One by the truck washing area and one all the way at the end of the parking lot. I know this sounds ridiculous and it was crazy that I had to do this. I made the decision that a trashcan should be no more than three strides away from any worker at any time. Hell, I even made it mandatory for technicians and inspectors to ware cargo pants just so they had trash cans on their thighs. This was amazing because the complaints of our employees leaving trash behind stopped at job-sites, because rather than placing the trash down on the counter and forgetting to pick it up later, they immediately stuffed the trash into their cargo pockets. It worked! The warehouse was always clean and tidy, the chemical room was clean. The bathrooms were clean. The offices and training rooms were clean, and the vehicles were clean. I found a way to make it easy for them to be clean, so they did. This is how I learned to “Work With Laziness.“
Most pest control business owners do not have the tenacity to write an operations plan, but an operations plan is a living breathing document that is never done. So, starting and not finishing is no big deal for us because you never are finished. I challenge you to spend a significant amount of time over the next year working on your operations plan. It will pay you extreme dividends. And provide you with happiness you didn’t know you could have with your business and your life.