Not shocking news: we’re in the tightest labor market in over 20 years. Security alarm dealers, and many other industries, are having real trouble finding enough people to get all the work done.
What’s a business owner to do? Until the labor market improves, here are some ideas that may help. You’ve heard the adage, “Do More With Less.” My adage for these times: “Do Less!”
Focus on Core Alarm Services
There’s no substitute for setting priorities when you’re time-starved. Focus on the services where you’re most efficient. For example, knocking out 20 service and maintenance appointments may be a better use of time than starting a large, multi-week job. The time needed is more predictable. You’ll keep 20 customers happy, rather than just a few. Big jobs often mean big surprises—not usually the positive kind. You do need the big jobs, but make sure they’re mostly in your core business. If a core strength is access control, odds are your expertise will both a) make your quote more detailed and ultimately more accurate, and b) make execution of the job efficient.
When you meet daily or weekly to schedule your jobs, there’s a tendency to schedule based on “first in, first out”. In other words, to schedule based on when the job quote was signed or agreed upon. Instead, give more weight to the jobs you know are in your company’s wheelhouse. Push the jobs out where there’s more risk of tying up too much staff time for too long.
Outsource Alarm Billing Services
Look at the many, many duties your team is handling, and ask: can we outsource anything? Finding a good outsource partner amounts to a “permanent hours refund.” If you still handle payroll in house—please stop! There are so many excellent, inexpensive payroll services out there, it rarely makes sense to handle it in house. Cornerstone is a professional recurring billing services company, ‘refunding’ many hours to our customers every month. Twenty years ago, an alarm billing services specialist was not on the radar for most security dealers. Now that they see how well it works, and how it saves labor hours…it’s definitely a way to simplify and “do less.”
There’s been an explosion of new businesses that specialize in offering various services to save time and money. A few examples:
- Accounting / bookkeeping
- Benefits administration
- HR services (numerous flavors)
- Lead generation
- Vehicle leasing / maintenance
- Data entry, data cleanup
We’re working with a prospect that did something interesting, innovative, and labor saving. They had significant data entry needs related to lead and prospect management and moving these leads into their primary software from their CRM. They sought out and hired what they call “our India team” to handle their data entry—every night, overnight. So when their regular team arrives for work each morning, all the data entry is done, and very affordably. Smart!
Automate Alarm Software
Automation often involves software that builds in time-saving features that can turn 2 hours of manual work into 2 minutes through an automated process. Good security alarm company software should offer many such automations. Cornerstone’s software includes several automations, such as a central station audit, sending of batch letters and/or emails to subsets of customers, automating most elements of collecting from slow paying subscribers, pushing Alarmpayments.com transactions into our processing queue, and others.
Integrations between and among platforms also enables automation. We have customers that use our API to push prospects from their CRM into Cornerstone. We have several central station integrations, which automate the lightning-quick download of new customer information from the central station platform to Cornerstone—premise data, zone lists, contact lists. We’ve integrated with USPS, Alarm.com, QuickBooks Online, a collection agency, and others—all to automate the flow of information and save tons of time.
Eliminate Paper Billing and Work Orders
We all know that paper is old school and inefficient…but it still plays a large role in many small security businesses. It does take an upfront investment, but with good software, outsource partners, and focus, 99% of paper can be eliminated. Cornerstone built its mobile app to help eliminate paper. Our Alarmpayments.com site is an electronic means for subscribers to submit payment—eliminating inbound calls, reducing the number of paper checks sent, and greatly simplifying the whole payments process.
Document management (e.g. Docusign) is a pretty common way to speed up quoting, subscriber agreement execution, and many other paper-based activities. Well-designed alarm business software should allow you to handle nearly everything without paper.
You’ll Surprise Yourself!
There are many, many other ways that you can make investments that pay off in time savings—that allow your team to literally do less. Conduct some brainstorming sessions. At Cornerstone’s offsite meeting every Fall, one of our most valuable sessions is: “What Do We Do That’s Stupid?” That session has resulted in dozens of investments in ways to streamline our operations.
Try it yourself—you may well be surprised at all the things you can do to make things run faster, better, and more efficiently!