Scaling a Business When You Can’t Find Employees

Ami Kassar on scaling a pool business.

Meet a pool contractor who’s too busy to figure out how to stop turning away business.

By Ami Kassar

This post continues my series about “embracing the uncomfortable.” Today, we dig into the story of a pool company whose owner frequently turns down business because of his company’s limited capacity. David runs a company with about eight employees and $1.5 million in sales. He subs out as much work as he can. During the busy season, David bounces between serving as chief bottle washer, project manager, estimator, salesman, etc. He’s pretty much on 24/7 with little respite. Sometimes, he wishes he could clone himself, but he has yet to crack that code.

David wants to expand his business. But he constantly turns down work, primarily because he needs more skilled labor to help him. And these days, those kinds of workers are hard to come by. 

With many challenging business problems, the best strategy is often to slow down before you speed up. Before David ventures into expansion, I recommend that he make sure he gets his own house in order. Because the contractor spends considerable time in the field, it’s imperative that David find a competent number two—someone who can take charge of critical responsibilities and effectively manage operations. This person should set up well-documented processes and procedures, create training manuals, and implement systems. Doing so is vital to maintain consistency and quality across the business.

To enhance financial management and forecasting, the contractor should also consider seeking the services of an outsourced chief financial officer. This move would provide valuable insights into the company’s financial health, enabling informed decision-making during expansion. Once this foundation is in place, David can explore many options for growth.

One strategic approach would be to acquire a competitor that has solid technical skills but might not be good at marketing. With such a move, David would essentially acquire the team he has been struggling to hire. And if this worked, he could better leverage his current marketing engine and accept some of the business he’s been turning away. Of course, the acquisition process requires careful analysis and due diligence to ensure compatibility and avoid pitfalls. And it could take some time to find the right target if one comes up at all.   

Another option might be outsourcing, which can be a powerful tool to scale operations without committing to a full-time workforce. David should explore all functions in the pool-contracting process that could be effectively outsourced. By partnering with reputable vendors for specific tasks, David can focus on their core competencies while maintaining quality and meeting increasing demand.

These new vendors, though, would need to be vetted and tested. The process will take time, and there will be trial and error. Still, a well structured outsourcing strategy can lead to streamlined operations and enhanced customer satisfaction. This would be a priority for his head of operations.

Finally, finding, training, and retaining skilled personnel is a significant challenge in pool contracting. Before thinking about a recruiting strategy, David should take some time to think about his company’s culture. Can he do things to make his company stand out?  Can he create a culture where pool technicians will want to come to work and not want to leave? Taking the time to think this through, to possibly engage consultants, and to learn from other companies will be extremely important.

There are other growth alternatives to throw into the mix. Could David’s pool company be franchised?  David has a profitable small business. This might be the winning ticket if he can teach others who want to own their own businesses how to replicate his systems.

Navigating growth in the pool contracting business demands exploring multiple paths at once. To be successful, the contractor must establish a robust infrastructure, including hiring a competent number two and refining their financial and reporting systems. From there, exploring acquisition opportunities, considering outsourcing possibilities, and testing recruiting strategies or franchising will ultimately lead to wins.

By exploring these paths thoughtfully and strategically—even when they feel uncomfortable—David will have the best chance to push his pool company to the next level.

Ami Kassar is CEO of MultiFunding.

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