Standing in the convention center hallway at Groundwater Week in Vegas back in 2019, I remember hearing dozens of conversations going on around me. This was my first time at one of these events and I was doing my best to soak up as much as I could.
Most of the conversations were about the plethora of brand new equipment scattered across the gigantic showroom floor but there were a few other phrases that seemed to be repeated.
“There just aren’t a lot of young people that want to get into the trades.”
“My kids are doing their own thing and don’t want to take over the family business.”
“I’m not sure anyone would want to buy my business.”
There’s a buzzword that captures this idea: it’s called “succession plan”. Succession plans are a hot topic at NGWA and for good reason. There are a lot of professionals leaving the industry and not enough coming in to replace them. Many folks are retired, or are retiring soon, and are unsure what will happen next with their business.
As the owner of a marketing company that works with a lot of drillers and contractors, I frequently talk to business owners all over the country and I always ask, “What are the major challenges you’re facing right now?” Besides the typical answers of “supply chains” and “regulations”, I commonly hear:
- “I’ve got the jobs but I can’t find good workers to complete them.”
- “I can’t find anyone to take over my business when I retire.”
Like most things in business, I see a connection between these issues. I’m a marketer so people usually come to me when they want more customers but the solutions we provide often spill over into other areas. In my point of view, all parts of a business go together like puzzle pieces.
Let’s Break Business Down to Its Basic Elements
At a core level, a business is made up of two things:
- A customer who wants something.
- A professional who can deliver it.
Remove either of these pieces from the equation and there’s no business. As professionals, we control half of the equation but gaining control over the other half proves to be a challenge for most. Those businesses that have figured out how to gain control over both sides of the coin are in a much better position to pass on or sell their business when they’re ready to move onto something else.
I see a lot of companies gaining control over the customer side of the equation with online marketing. Most drillers I speak with rely mostly on word of mouth to bring in new business but a few have diversified their customer acquisition strategy by having an awesome online presence. It’s helping them attract new customers that couldn’t come from word of mouth.
It’s no secret that people are moving in droves right now. They’re leaving populated cities and heading out into the country to seek more stable, free environments. When they arrive at their destination, they don’t know anyone. When they need a local service, they pull out their phone and type it into Google. Who do they find? There’s always a few companies that stand out above the rest.
Even folks that hear about companies via word of mouth are typing those companies’ names into Google. Buying decisions are supported by online research these days. Online reviews and websites are among the most important factors people consider when you ask them about how they make buying decisions. Companies that look highly professional and provide a great experience online are gaining ground on the ones that don’t.
Right now, most companies are busy, but that won’t last forever. When times get tough, the more sources of new business you have, the better. This is certainly something a prospective buyer or successor is going to think about. Show them multiple sources of consistent new business and they’ll feel confident that they can hop into the professional seat and be successful.
A strong online presence is great for bringing in new customers, but it can also attract great workers too.
The Great Worker Shortage of 2021
At least 3 out of 4 of the business owners I talk to mention that it’s very difficult to find good workers. Licensing can be time consuming and expensive. There’s not a lot of young people getting into trades. Oh, and the government is paying people to stay home. I hear many reasons why people think this problem exists and I think they’re all right.
When I hear business owners express these challenges, my business mind goes into problem solving mode. I look back at my experiences working with companies in a marketing capacity and recall how solving one problem often led into solving another, kind of like dominoes. Two examples immediately come to mind:
- I work with a contractor who, in the beginning of the year, was trying to expand and grow his business but he was running into the typical hurdles a small business faces. He was spread thin on options for jobs and was taking projects that weren’t ideal and that didn’t pay as well as he would have liked. He also had issues with workers calling in sick, not showing up, or just not doing a good enough job.
We came in and upgraded his online image and made sure people could find him when they searched online for his services in his area. About 6 weeks later he was submitting more estimates than ever before and for bigger projects than what was typical. He had no choice but to raise his rates and he used that additional revenue to pay higher wages and hire people with more experience and more dedication.
After a few months the domino effect had transformed his business and allowed him to turn it into an operation that runs smoothly and is poised for huge growth. If he were to want to sell it today, it would be an attractive proposition for a potential buyer or successor. That was certainly not the case just a few months ago.
- Another client of mine has been in business for 20 years and has nearly 50 employees. As the owner and CEO, he’s worked really hard to create an excellent culture among his people. He’s created a team that his workers really want to be a part of and he uses that enthusiasm to attract more good people.
The Careers page on his website does a great job of explaining this culture. He has an employment hotline people can call and listen to him explain the culture and the benefits of working at his company. This page on his website brings in a steady flow of new applicants and feeds his business with new opportunities for good workers.
These two examples illustrate how online marketing has helped fill both sides of the business equation, customers who need stuff and professionals who can deliver it.
Putting It All Together for a Great Succession Plan
It’s already tough to organize a business in a way that is easy to sell or pass on. Having major issues like customer acquisition or an employee shortage makes it even more difficult. The solutions I talk about in this article are certainly not an end-all-be-all fix for everything but I hope it gives you some ideas on how you can improve your own business by investing in online assets that you own and control.
If I can plant just one seed in your mind that helps you on your path to formulating a succession plan for your business, I would consider that a huge success. If you have comments or feedback on the topic at hand, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.