We hope you enjoyed July 4th, especially in a year when most fireworks, parades, and celebrations were canceled. For most people, July and August are vacation season. This year, most of us will need to settle for some version of a stay-cation. Wikipedia defines a stay-cation as “a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance of their home and does not require overnight accommodation.”
That sounds reasonable—taking time off, driving to a local park or relaxing outdoor spot to disengage and recharge. Here’s the problem for small business owners: it’s too easy for a stay-cation to end up as a “no-cation”. My definition of a no-cation: “a planned stay-cation that ends up not happening for a business owner because of the perceived demands of the business.”
“Parenting” Your Business
I’ve had a few no-cations, and the demands of running our business have washed away plans for time off. So I understand that many security company owners spent at least part of the July 4th weekend working when they didn’t want or plan to.
Taking care of a business can be like parenting a child. As we raised our kids, we often put their needs ahead of our own needs. That’s necessary to a point, but long term can lead to fatigue, bad habits, and poor decision-making. Eventually, a parent must take a break, recharge the batteries, and rebalance personal needs with parental duties.
The Trap of “Doing It All”
When Cornerstone was launched in 1999, it was small and manageable. I felt like we could handle doing nearly everything in-house. What I quickly learned is that this model would burn us out. The demands of the business were a ball and chain. It was nearly impossible to take time off, and it became hard to grow because we were getting in our way.
Today, we have the luxury of being able to take extended vacations. We can truly recharge. And our business continues to grow and prosper. What changed?
The Beauty of Outsourcing
We made two significant changes to our business model. First, we started to outsource some business processes to trusted allies. Second, we hired very carefully and assembled a great team. Today’s post will address the first change, and I’ll tackle building a team in a future post.
Outsourcing things we can do ourselves is not easy! Business owners tend to be control freaks – until they realize that “control” is an illusion. By trying to control everything, you lose your freedom, which isn’t good for either your psyche or the business.
But every time we found a quality outsource option to handle a process, something wonderful happened—our business got stronger! We have 6 – 7 key allies, vendors that handle critical processes in partnership with our team. These alliances keep us nimble, save us money, and help us focus on core functions like improving our online platform and providing the industry’s best customer support.
Finding The Right Ally
You can outsource nearly anything if you’re committed to it. Focus on repetitive tasks that someone else can do better/faster/cheaper, or functions where expertise is critical—like monitoring, payroll, HR. For security alarm dealers, that leaves time to focus on mission-critical things like sales, system design, and/or system installation.
Finding and hiring an outsource partner is like hiring an employee—and perhaps more important. Decide exactly what you need, then ‘interview’ the companies that do what you seek. Talk to references, and talk to the operations people, not just the salespeople. If you can, do a test of the service to see how the company performs. And make sure your service agreement is written in your favor and is short term if possible.
Pain Drives Change
Nearly all of our customers faced the option of continuing to handle recurring billing in-house versus hiring Cornerstone as an outsource provider. Why did they sign on? In most cases, it boiled down to some pain they were experiencing:
- Needing more modern software with specialized features—had outgrown their software
- Using specialized software, but it was poorly supported and lacked key features
- Too much information in too many different places / software, not tied together
- Staffing or personnel issues, resulting in unreliable or missed billing
- Time-starved admin team, so facing the decision to either hire new staff or outsource
- Unruly receivables tying up working capital, needed a better process
For our customers, signing on with us means both getting a modern, user-friendly software package, and getting a broad range of time-saving billing services. It’s like hiring your own little billing department. Our customers tell is they now have more time to focus on their subscribers and be pro-active in building their business. They say it “de-clutters” their administrative work.
End Result: A Simpler & Happier Life
Our customer’s owners could spend their 4th of July weekend unplugged and enjoying their lives. They know our system is getting their recurring billing out, and then receiving and posting their payments. Their subscribers are paying invoices online at www.Alarmpayments.com , without them having to lift a finger. If there was an emergency service call over the weekend, their technicians could log into our cloud system, take care of the service ticket, and get it billed and paid.
Your business, like our business, should be fulfilling to manage and build. If your security company’s demands are monopolizing parts of your weekends, holidays, and vacations…it’s time to change the way you operate. Find a few key allies—you’ll be more in control, more profitable, happier, and enjoying your stay-cation!