I spoke at a local high school career day recently, and when I asked one young man what he wanted to do as a career, he replied, “I mostly just want to have a huge desk in an awesome office.” In high school, I wasn’t all that different, and in the mind of a 16 year-old, you can see the appeal. But if you’re a small business owner, especially one who spends most of his time in the field, you know that there is no corner office; for you, work gets done wherever you are. With today’s easy-to-use mobile technology, the new headquarters is remote and on the go. A phone, some supplies, the right apps, your vehicle, and you’ve pretty much got what you need to get business, service customers, and get paid.
Of course, there is paperwork to be done and calls to be made; those things are all critical to generating new business and taking care of the business you have in front of you. Because you’re on the road or at job sites most of the time, you rarely have time, space, or the resources to get everything done. The key for you is to rethink your workspace and embrace the idea of the remote headquarters.
People operate in a much more agile way these days, and this works to your advantage. The tools required to be successful look a lot different in today’s world, but by employing the right tools in the right way, you will drastically cut down on costs and other logistics issues, and you’ll simplify your life so you can focus on the activities that make you money.
Let’s look at what you need to be productive (average cost included):
- Smartphone: As you already know, you’re on the phone all the time. It’s not just for communication, but as we’ll see, it’s pretty much for any and every activity you’re involved in. Make sure you negotiate an unlimited call and text plan with your network provider, and if possible, spring for unlimited data. An iPhone 8 is $700, which you can pay interest-free in monthly installments over two years. That’s $29/month + approximately $75 monthly fee = $104/month.
- Good earbuds: You’re going to be on the phone a lot. Get ones that are comfortable. The highest rated earbuds on Amazon are $20
- Apps: I’ve installed apps on my phone that let me scan/store/fax documents, bill customers, maintain a history of invoices and bills, do payroll, pay bills, chat with employees, and create/deliver/track marketing emails. Get those apps and make it a habit of using them; later in the blog, I’ll point out some of the features of the Housecall Pro app, which may end up being the most valuable one you use. At most, you’ll pay $10 - $20 for lifetime usage of the apps you need. Let’s just call this a $20 cost.
- Big, well-made bag: Welcome to your new office. Get a solid, durable bag and pack it with cell phone chargers, laptop (if you use one), the folders for active projects, pens, pencils, paper, stamps, envelopes, water, and Advil (for those rough days). A RedOxx bag is $175. This Asus laptop is among the highest rated on Amazon and is only $319. Everything else you need might set you back $30.
There, quite literally, is your toolkit for being productive while you’re in the field or catching up when you have some down time. You need to also throw in some process so you have a strategy for being productive while you’re in the field. So, when you’re operating out of a remote HQ, put these things into place to stay on track and focused:
Contacts: Make sure all your customers and hot prospects are in your phone contacts.
TIP: Add information about the contact in the “notes” field. That way, if you forget the person’s name, you can search on the terms you remember, for example, “Red house, rotting roof shingles."
Customer response: Calling back customers is easy to put off. We often say, “I’ll get to it when I’m back in the office.” Later never seems to come, so carve out time regularly (doesn’t need to be every day), put it on your calendar, and force yourself to make calls.
TIP: You already know this, but if you ignore customers, they will ignore you. Make the calls you need to make.
Schedule: You have a calendar. It may be paper-based, it may be in your smartphone, it may be on Post-Its. I’m not judging, but unless you have a personal assistant reminding you when and where to go, you are going to miss stuff if you don’t abide by your calendar.
TIP: Schedule everything, including phone calls. Also, put alerts on everything you schedule so you won’t miss them.
Billing/invoicing: You don’t work for free, so make a billing app your friend. The Housecall Pro app, for example, allows you to create invoices on the fly and deliver automatically to customers. It also keeps track of all invoices so you know what has and hasn’t been paid. It’s an accounting system that automates most of the work.
TIP: Deliver your invoice immediately to the customer after the job is done so you don’t forget.
Automate marketing: Put your contacts to use and use an automated approach to creating good-looking, trackable marketing materials (like emails and postcards that go out in the U.S. Mail).
TIP: Read our blog about marketing and customer loyalty.
OK, so you may not have that corner office with the huge desk that teenagers think is so swell, but who needs it? When you get to meet with people every day, do interesting work, and be up and around, you know that being tied to a desk is no fun at all. Doing all these things with purpose and a plan will make your working hours more productive and your non-working hours more relaxing.