Management • Operations • Business Tips • Productivity • Technician Tips • 47 minutes

Successful Succession Planning: Preparing for the Unexpected

June 22, 2021

Episode Overview

“We do one thing really well.”

—Trevor Lively

Willingly and gladly, Trevor Lively started working for his dad when he was 8 years old. Today, he’s the owner of the booming family business, Blue Jay Irrigation, in London, Ontario, Canada. 

On “Toolbox for the Trades,” Lively talks about successful strategies for strengthening family ties in business, the necessity of an ownership succession plan and the rewards that come from providing incentives to employees.

Here are Trevor Lively’s top tips for managing any home services company:

In a family business, communication is key.

Trevor Lively worked with his dad until his passing in 2018. Other family members working in Blue Jay Irrigation include his grandparents, his mother, and his wife. He says the No. 1 part of finding success is communication. 

“As a family member, you care probably more than anyone else, even though you may not have ownership,” he says. “They care and they want to be informed.”

Have a succession plan.

Before his dad was diagnosed with cancer, they’d been talking about a succession plan. The diagnosis created urgency in the discussion. 

“For anyone that’s a second- or third-generation owner, know that this is a difficult conversation for your parent,” Lively says. “It’s their baby. They invested their life into it and poured blood, sweat, and tears into the business. It can be an identity to them.” 

He says it can be an awkward conversation, but is one that must be had.

Build a strong leadership team. 

During a period of growth in 2015, Lively’s dad implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), also known as Traction. Before that, it was Lively and his dad making most of the decisions. 

“We felt like we needed some outside perspective,” he says. “We developed out a leadership team that represents sales, the office, finance and operations. We meet weekly, discuss issues and find solutions. We’re solving smaller issues because we deal with them quickly and efficiently—not allowing them to fester into bigger problems.”

Strategize without being distracted by shiny objects.

There was a period of time when Blue Jay added business lines to supplement revenue during the irrigation offseason. Those trades included landscaping, lawn care, and snowplowing. 

“We recognized as a team that we needed to concentrate on our core business of irrigation, and in divisions within the core business,” Lively says. “That allowed us to be more focused, more intentional and allowed us to grow irrigation because we weren’t distracted by shiny things.”

Do one thing well. 

There’s a time and a place for trade companies to expand, but Lively found that when Blue Jay expanded, they were working harder but not smarter. 

“We were working hard nine months of the year on irrigation then going right into long hours and nights with snowplowing,” he says. “What we found was that the irrigation suffered because our concentration on developing and growing and improving our business wasn't there—because we were distracted by plowing in the wintertime.”

Strive to hire from within. 

Many of the employees in management roles at Blue Jay came up after being team members, Lively says. Paired with an outside perspective, it’s beneficial to have employees who know the ropes. 

“They have that perspective of what it was like to be on the team,” he says. “They know what it was like under that type of pay structure or that type of benefit, or those types of working hours.”

Hit goals by offering incentives. 

The company’s incentive program is a unique, team-engagement system. “We use revenue per hour as our targets for our technicians and our install crews,” Lively says. 

If employees hit those different levels of their monthly goal, they get what’s akin to credit card points, or miles. The “miles” go into an account and can be saved up. Miles can also be shared among employees.

Prioritize memberships with customers. 

In the past, Lively says the company may have done a lackluster job of educating customers on the benefits of buying bigger service memberships. 

“A lot of our customers didn’t really look at other options,” he says. “So, we’ve tried to get creative in ways to get in front of customers.” 

Instead of more emails, Lively decided creating content for YouTube was a way to get somebody’s attention.

Yes, YouTube videos work. 

Lively says the company saw benefits from Day 1 of its YouTube presence. 

“We’re now at the point where we know what to educate our customers about,” he says. “We keep it short and simple—no more than a two-minute video or you lose attention spans. We don’t bombard customers. We have a schedule. 

“We’ve talked about WiFi controllers, the advantages of weather-based scheduling, and savings you can get with upgrades. Our customers really do appreciate it and we get a lot of good feedback.”

Recommended research and reading

Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman 

Confident Leader!: Become One, Stay One by Dan Reiland

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About the Show

Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

Episodes will feature stories and strategies to help contractors grow and scale their service business.

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