“We don't learn these things. They're not taught to us in high school or college, you have to learn these things by failing.”
— Larry Wilberton
Eric “The Tech Whisperer” Sprague and Larry Wilberton have managed to stay friends and business partners for more than 36 years. After running various trade companies, they now own the training company MorningTechMeeting.com, and put out the “Blue Collar Nation” podcast.
On the “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast, the dynamic duo discusses how to notice a business need, learning by failing, and the extreme importance of communication with your technician staff.
Here are Eric Sprague’s and Larry Wilberton’s top pieces of advice for running a successful home services company:
Key TakeawaysLearn to notice a business need.You learn the most by failing at things.Recognize when it’s time to hire an expert and delegate.In-house meetings are critical. Yes, it’s possible to be business partners with a friend. It’s imperative to build communication with techs.ServiceTitan attracts owners seeking success. Be wary of the influx of private equity. Be there at the end of the day.
Learn to notice a business need.
Working as subcontractors early in their careers, Sprague and Wilberton were ringing doorbells and getting screamed at by homeowners. “It was the restoration company they were mad at, not us,” Sprague says.
After listening to customer complaints, they decided to go to school, learn the business and create a company that provided better service.
“We started marketing to our own customer list,” Sprague says. “It grew from there and we ended up having 30 employees.”
You learn the most by failing at things.
Wilberton says the pair could have done a lot of things better while they were growing. They definitely could and should have read Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth” earlier on.
“That would have made a huge difference,” he says. “But the skills that we learned are not taught in college, high school or anything.”
Recognize when it’s time to hire an expert and delegate.
Sprague looks back and says they should have more quickly found a person with actual industry experience and put them in a general manager role.
“While we were growing, I was stuck in my office managing, managing, managing,” he says. “I could have gone out and done more marketing than I did.”
In-house meetings are critical.
They started doing a 7-to-8-minute meeting every morning, and Sprague says that was the beginning of a period when sales went up, breakages went down, team engagement went up, and all the metrics they cared about went the right way.
“At first, Larry counted up how much this was costing (in man-hours) and fought me tooth and nail,” Sprague says. “But all of a sudden we weren’t playing firemen anymore. We were no longer running around fixing problems all day.”
Yes, it’s possible to be business partners with a friend.
Wilberton believes the primary building block in partnering with a friend—or anybody—is to be self-aware of your own profile before trying to understand somebody else’s.
“The more self-aware you are, the easier it is to communicate and deal with people,” he says. “You’re never sure of the expectations. But you do have to build trust.”
It’s imperative to build communication with techs.
Sprague, aka The Tech Whisperer, says owners need to take ego and emotion out of the relationship and develop trust and communication with techs.
“The companies that are stuck at one or two million dollars are the ones where the owner is jaded and thinks all the techs will leave, eventually,” Sprague says. “The companies that thrive and are doing 10 or 20 million dollars are usually the ones where the owner is humble and more of a lifetime learner.”
ServiceTitan attracts owners seeking success.
“The people who own companies that use ServiceTitan are forward-thinking,” Wilberton says. “They’re investing time and energy into software and are going to change all their systems and processes and retrain their employees. These are the owners we like working with.”
Be wary of the influx of private equity.
Private equity is bringing a lot of money into the industry, Sprague says. Depending on what side you’re on, that could be good or bad, he believes.
“They’re closing out a lot of these mom-and-pop shops,” Sprague says. “That might be good for the private equity company and for the owner who sells. But I don’t know if it’s good for the clients and the industry as a whole when we get these behemoth companies.”
Be there at the end of the day.
Once Sprague started the morning meetings, he still made sure he was back at the office at the end of the day.
“Larry did it, too,” he said. “We helped every tech unload their van. I gave high fives. I listened to their stories of what it was like in the field. It was full engagement. They knew we cared.
“I viewed it as something that was going to keep our employees around.”