“There are two ways to have more money — save it or make more of it.”
— Angie White
When Mercurio’s Heating and Air Conditioning experienced rapid growth, the Tacoma/Seattle-based company split managerial responsibilities. Angie White became back-office manager. She’s all about processes.
As a guest on “Toolbox for the Trades,” White talks about avoiding turnover, saving money through waste management, and what not to say during the hiring process.
Here are Angie White’s top administrative and back-office tips for managing a company in the home-service industry:
Key TakeawaysSeparate the front office from the back office.You can solve problems with processes.Here’s what not to say during the hiring process. Hire for traits specific to the job. When hiring, be aware of your personal bias. Report all injuries and accidents. Create skilled employees. Avoid turnover by being honest at the get-go.With accounting, there are two ways to make money. Recommended Resources
Separate the front office from the back office.
White’s company got so big that they had to separate the front office from the back office. The front office deals with customer service. As the back-office manager, she handles things like accounting and HR.
“It’s a lot of admin work,” White says. “Making sure our licenses are up to date. Vehicle administration and management. And at the moment we are doing a massive inventory overhaul. So, it’s anything administrative or that creates processes—even if those processes don’t relate to my department.”
You can solve problems with processes.
White thrives on creating processes that put out fires. Example: the recent, unusually timed heatwave that flummoxed the Pacific Northwest. Scores of people in the community had air conditioners that weren’t working, or they decided to get one for the first time.
“At that time of year, we’d normally have one or two technicians on call and maybe one salesperson,” she says. “We had to quickly get more techs and our sales team available. Everybody pitched in. Everybody got on the phones. We prioritized new installs and emergency calls, people with maintenance agreements.
“In the end, it ended up being a lot about education. The process required us to think ahead to all scenarios.”
Here’s what not to say during the hiring process.
Liability is a big issue for White. Rather than recommend what to say during the hiring process, she offers some tips on what not to say.
“Everyone knows not to ask about gender or race,” she says. “Some people don’t know that anything you write down during an interview can be used against you in the future. Don’t write down anything that’s not factual or talks about a protected class.
“Don’t write down anything that could be considered to be a discriminatory hiring practice. For example, if somebody tells you about a disability or their medical history, don’t write that down.”
Hire for traits specific to the job.
White says she hired a lot of customer service reps before she zeroed in on a best practice for finding the right candidates.
“I got a lot of good tips by reading the Harvard Business Review,” she says. “It made me realize that what I wanted in a CSR was someone who can make decisions on their own without having to consult with a manager every single time.
“That’s when I started putting those specific traits in my job ads. Doing that, I got more people interested in the job as well as way better CSR candidates.”
When hiring, be aware of your personal bias.
There was one candidate who White recalls she immediately meshed with during an interview and let her personal feelings cloud her judgment.
“The interview went on so many tangents,” she says. “We were getting along great. Maybe I wasn’t asking super hard-hitting questions or looking hard at her qualifications.”
White hired her but had to fire her shortly thereafter.
“I was biased in her favor,” White says. “I recognized that, and now I watch for it and make sure I ask every candidate the same questions.”
Report all injuries and accidents.
Every injury and accident—however minor or major it may seem at the time—needs to be reported, White says.
“I have a ton of experience with people claiming they weren’t injured, then all of a sudden they go to a doctor,” she says. “And then you have to dispute it.”
White says every state has different regulations about injuries and accidents—so be familiar with your state’s laws.
“If you have it documented, and they’ve signed off on that documentation, then you are prepared for everything.”
Create skilled employees.
White recognizes that a common complaint in the trades is that there are not enough skilled candidates in the employment pool.
“Well, train them yourself,” she says. “That’s a big thing you can be doing. Eventually, within a couple years, they’re working independently as the full-blown, journey-level technician you need them to be. Stop complaining and get to work training people from the ground up.”
Avoid turnover by being honest at the get-go.
High turnover at entry-level positions can be avoided by honest communication during hiring interviews, White believes.
“Turnover happens when people aren’t prepared for what the job is,” she says. “I literally tell people, ‘I’m going to try and scare you off now and you tell me if you still want the job,’” she says. “I tell them every single bad thing. Being in crawl spaces for hours at a time. Working in the rain. Being around dead rats or spiders. And that sometimes you don’t know when a job is going to be finished.”
White says if any of that is a problem, it’s better to find it out before hiring someone.
With accounting, there are two ways to make money.
There are two ways to have more money—save it or make more of it, White says. As a back-office manager, she focuses on the savings side.
“Saving money is things like asking vendors to renegotiate contracts for discounts,” she says. “Shop around if you’re not super attached to them. The worst you can get is a no.”
Her other piece of advice is to go through expenses with a fine-tooth comb.
“You’ll find where the waste is,” White says. “We found installers were throwing away whole rolls of tape and copper fittings. Small stuff. But over a year, it all adds up to money you’re throwing in the trash.”