A common gripe among contractors is they're just not able to "get out of the truck." In other words, they're still running service calls, installing, and selling — all while trying to run a business.

Running is the key word here!

This rut seems to start forming when a company is doing between $500,000 and $1 million in gross sales.

Usually these contractors have good intentions, but say things like: "I really want to get out of the truck, but you don't understand my local market — there aren't any good technicians available. When I do find one, most of the time he either turns out to be a ‘poser' who acts like he knows what he's doing, or a cracker-jack tech with zero people skills who alienates more customers than everyone else in the company put together."

A number of contractors also take the "wishful thinking" approach: "As soon as we get to a certain point, I'll get out of the truck." Then there's, "When I have the right guy in place, I'll make my move."

There are many variations on the theme, but the result is the same: it never happens on its own. Getting out of the truck is a process; it takes a plan and dogged persistence to execute it.

There's one strategy I've seen work over the last 20+ years that I often share. It lets you level your peaks and valleys, create a stream of new blood into your company, and grow people into strong, capable, future leaders.

My old friend, Ron Smith is the granddaddy of this approach, as he successfully implemented
it both directly and indirectly in large and small companies since the mid 1980s. I can't provide all the detail in this editorial, but here's a sixpoint "CliffsNotes" version:
1. Service agreements are the starting point. Develop a strategy to market and sell as many service agreements as you can. Price them aggressively at first, as this is one of your best lead sources for future business.
2. Design your agreements to feature tune-ups to be performed twice a year. Notice I didn't say spring and fall. The idea is to perform them year-round to help level the load.
3. Hire talented people to perform the tune-ups. Typically it's better to hire people with great customer skills, good mechanical aptitude, and little or no HVAC experience or training. The key here is to find employees with no bad habits and train them one step at a time.

A tune-up tech can usually hit the ground running with a few weeks of basic training. He or she isn't expected to troubleshoot or diagnose anything. If a problem is found, an experienced tech is called in to take over. Starter technicians can be taught basic testing like static pressure and CO safety testing in a short time. In many cases, the newbies catch on faster than seasoned vets.
4. Create career paths where new tune-up technicians can train and move up through the ranks as they prove themselves. Some will become full service technicians, others will move into installation, but the beauty is you're literally growing your future staff — the one that will let you break the chains that tie you to "the truck."
5. Continue the process — run recruitment ads constantly. Create ads that don't identify you as an HVAC company and are designed to pull people from outside the industry. E-mail me if you'd like one.
6. Train, train, train. You have to keep training year-round. It must become part of your culture. Many worry about investing in training people and having them leave. Isn't it worse to not train them and have them stay?

That's it — a simple strategy, but it works. Obviously there's much more information on the subject. Many of the industry's consultants and associations have material on it. All you have to do is go out and get it, implement it, and reap the benefits.

There's an old saying that insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. Isn't it time to stop the insanity? Now, step away from the truck . . .

Dominick Guarino is chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute, (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com) a national training, certification, and membership organization teaching Carbon Monoxide Safety, Combustion, Air Diagnostics and Balancing, Performance-Based Contracting, and more. Contact him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.