Ron Chan

Over the last 10 years that we owned our remodeling company I was gone four months or so every year, usually a couple of days to a couple of weeks at a time. The last five years we did $2.5 million annually on 25 to 30 projects a year. We had eight employees. I was the salesperson. My wife, Nina, who handled administration/finance/marketing, was gone three months plus. Our travel was 50-50 personal and professional.

How did we do this?

Clear Roles and Responsibilities
I was the salesperson. To start our process, I visited qualified prospects and would get the right ones to sign design agreements. Then our designer took over, preparing a plan and specifications. I needed to review the plan before it was shown to the potential client to make sure it was solving their problems and that the cost of building it fit their investment amount.

Once the plan was done, I brought the estimator to the home, introducing him to the potential client. During the trade contractor walk-through, I was there at the beginning, just to ensure all was going well and to be available for any questions the estimator had. I reviewed each estimate three times while it was being prepared. Our administrative assistant would proof the resulting scope of work and proposal very carefully.

We had the potential client come to our office to review the documents. The estimator and designer joined us at our conference table. I would tell the potential clients those two people knew more about their project than I did. Then I could close the deal and get signatures on the documents, plus a deposit. The estimator and designer would then walk the client through every word in the scope of work, noting what needed to be clarified or the like.

Each of us in the process knew who did what, and we could count on that happening. This was the way the entire company worked.

Our company had a system of meetings which would take place as scheduled no matter who was absent.

The Monday Morning Meeting was one hour, no longer. It followed the same agenda every time. Everyone in the company attended. After the Monday Morning Meeting there was a production meeting, a sales department meeting, and an administrative department meeting. These were relatively short, just to nail down one or two things, typically.

Our production manager met with each lead carpenter on their respective jobsites each week. That meeting was one hour or less. She reviewed progress to date, the schedule, and how we were doing, plus job costing and client concerns. After that meeting there was a meeting of the two of them with the client. Minutes were taken and distributed afterward.

Thursday at 2:30 p.m. I would meet with the production manager to review her schedule for the production department for the coming week. We would also review job costing and the three week look-aheads the lead carpenters prepared for their respective jobs.

For each person I managed directly (production manager, estimator, designer, and administration/finance/marketing manager, my wife, Nina) I kept a separate pad. Every time we agreed somebody was going to get something done, I would write a note on the appropriate pad and we would agree on a deadline. This was a running list, so as things got done they would be lined out. I expected each person to write their own list, with their list and mine matching so there were no misunderstandings.

Our administrative assistant had several folders for phone messages, lead sheets, client meeting minutes, job costing, and time sheets that were generated while I was out of town. I could come in early on Monday after being gone for a while and get up to speed quickly by reviewing those files.

All these practices kept everyone informed appropriately regardless of who happened to be out of town.

Out of Town, Out of Touch
When I traveled for professional reasons, I was so busy that returning emails and phone calls was almost impossible. During our personal travel we did not want to be running the company, so we did not check email or ask that phone messages be forwarded to us. Basically, we were letting our employees do what we hired them to do: get work done and make money for the company, them and us.

Here is what I did to prepare our employees for our absence. About a week before we were to leave, I would ask each person I managed to think ahead and anticipate what they might want to ask me while I was gone. Then, two days or so before I was to leave, I would meet with them again and answer their questions.

Finally, our employees knew that if something unanticipated came up that needed a solution soon, they should develop a solution and the costs entailed to implement the solution. When doing so, they should reference the company’s mission statement and core values. Finally, they should run their problem, their solution, and their reason for thinking the solution was good by someone above them on the organization chart or at their same level, getting that person’s feedback. Our administrative assistant had our company work for her several times so she could offer good input, too.

Our people were told that when we returned we would praise publicly any good solution and discuss privately any solution that was not as good as it could have been. By going away and not being available, we showed our people we trusted them.

Is it hard to put such practices into place? Yes, but it's not impossible. Remember that we were in business for 19 years before the last 10 years! It does take time. All you have to do is start now.