“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This sage advice from Benjamin Franklin is true for all sizes of business in all industries, but too often, the business planning that occurs does not always position the business for growth in the most effective manner.
“I believe most medium to large pest management companies do have a strategic plan and a set time to review it each year, but smaller companies with one to five employees may not have a plan and instead fly by the seat of their pants,” says Kevin Lemasters, president of EnviroPest in Colorado. “This is not specific to our industry—it is true in all industries with smaller companies.”
One of the first steps to develop a strategic plan is to understand your own company, says Lemasters. “Know your mission and values and know where you want to be five years from now in terms of size, financial strength, geographic area and staff,” he suggests. Although some companies look at 10-year plans, he believes that for most companies, a five-year plan is easier to manage and works best for his company of 21 employees who primarily serve two counties in Colorado. The most important thing to do is to put the plan in writing, along with measurable performance indicators such as revenue, customer retention rates, expenses or staff turnover, he adds.
Prior to setting goals, perform a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis of the current business, review client demographics and evaluate current service offerings, suggests Scott Steckel, strategic development director at Plunkett’s Pest Control. “Determine what type of client the company wants to serve, and research which customers are most satisfied and most profitable for the company and focus on developing that segment,” he adds. “Review current service offerings and keep only those that you are truly great at providing and shut off those you can’t fix.”
After creating the long-range goals for five or 10 years down the road, reverse engineer the plan to create incremental goals for upcoming years, suggests Kurt Scherzinger, A.C.E., vice president of operations for Scherzinger Termite & Pest Control in Ohio. With 96 employees and three offices, the roadmap provided by a strategic plan is critical, he says. “We are a family-owned company, but key managers from all areas work together to develop the strategy,” he explains. The company goals are then broken down into goals at the department and employee level.
“Strategic planning is not something owners can do alone,” says Scherzinger. “Owners tend to get caught up in the numbers but including people who know what is happening in the field as well as operational departments provides a perspective that is important.”
Factors addressed in a strategic plan are similar for all companies, but there is no one-size-fits-all plan because each company’s goals are different.
For example, Lemasters and his leadership team decided to focus on growing their business in one geographic area comprised of two counties. This meant cutting ties with a national alliance that produced work that required technicians to go beyond the primary service area.
“The national relationship was very beneficial as we grew the company, but after 11 years, we wanted to grow our business in a focused area,” explains Lemasters. “We have grown every year while shrinking our service area footprint.”
Focusing on a specific audience is also what Plunkett’s Pest Control has done, even though the company looks very different from EnviroPest.
Located across 17 states primarily in the upper Midwest, Plunkett’s has 480 employees. “About 90 percent of our work is commercial and our sweet spot is large food processing plants,” says Steckel. The decision to focus on commercial and on food processing operation is based on an understanding of the geographic marketplace—rural areas in which agriculture is key to the economy. “We are not located in large urban areas, and we are in areas that experience five months of winter,” he says. “Although it takes more effort to identify potential customers and sell them on our service by building relationships, our focus on service and quality produces a high retention rate.”
Strategic planning at Plunkett’s includes key leaders throughout the company, including the owner, finance, marketing, training, human resources and managers from different offices. Steckel suggests that no matter what size the company or the group included in strategic planning, set aside time to focus on planning. “Schedule an off-site meeting for a whole day with an external facilitator because there are too many distractions at the office,” he says. Most importantly, don’t go through the process and set the plan on the shelf until the following year, says Steckel. “Schedule follow up meetings quarterly to review and update plans.”
Scherzinger’s company finds it helpful to keep the strategic goals top-of-mind at every weekly managers’ meeting. “Everyone submits their statistics to me each Friday and we review them at the following Tuesday morning meeting,” he says. “This gives us an opportunity to determine the cause of any changes in performance and make adjustments if needed.”
Whether the strategic plan review is quarterly, monthly or more frequently, be prepared to make necessary adjustments, or change tactics to reflect changes in the marketplace, says Lemasters. “For example, if your plan is to double your revenue in five years, but your review shows that you have stopped growing, ask yourself if a sales person would help,” he says. “If you are growing, take a look at when you need to add additional staff, another vehicle or more equipment, and plan for it ahead of time.”
Once the plan is complete, share it with employees, recommends Lemasters. “Let everyone know the goals and how they can contribute and explain how and why decisions were made so they understand the reasons,” he says. “We also update our financials at each monthly meeting to let everyone see how performance relates to our goals.”
Strategic planning was new to Scherzinger’s company this year, so they held a big company kickoff in March, he says. “We talked about our core values and revealed our strategic plan,” he explains. “The plan had always been in my father’s head before this year, but the time and effort we put into writing a plan that involved input from others gives us trackable and obtainable goals that will keep everyone moving forward in the same direction.
While strategic planning may seem overwhelming, Lemasters points to resources available to all companies. “In addition to informal networking, NPMA’s MentorMatch is a great way to get guidance from an industry professional, and local small business development centers offer advice to small businesses,” he says. “We are fortunate that members of our industry are willing to help each other—it makes our industry unique.”
Taking advantage of existing resources to enhance the strategic business plan is worth the time and effort, says Lemasters. Being able to plan ahead and evaluate your progress is critical to growing a business and making timely adjustments, he says. “You can’t turn a ship or a business quickly, but a good plan gives you a chance to make changes and keep the business growing.”
By Sheryl S. Jackson