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The Secret to Strategy

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The Secret to Strategy
What vs. which, and how to make your changes stick.

Imagine that you’re standing in front of this great, big box, and on that box, there are all these black levers everywhere that you can pull; then there’s one red lever mixed in with all the others.

So, here are the directions: Pull a lever and money will come out—some in great heaping quantities; some in small trickles. You can only pull one at a time.

What do you do? I’ll give you a hint: The red one stands out for a reason; you should pick that one. But to be fair to you, you wouldn’t know that, right? You might just go to the one closest to where you’re standing. And you pull. Hey! Money came out! It’s not an amount that truly changes the pace of your business, but, hey, it’s working. So, you keep pulling on that one. When, that trickle dries up, you simply move to the one next to it.

In the end, maybe you pull dozens of levers before even making it to the red one. And once you pull that red one, well, you’re going to kick yourself—and I mean really kick yourself—that you didn’t pull it first; it would’ve changed everything.

If only you’d known, right?

OK, so this is the image I want you to have as we talk about something that’s been a really hot button topic for me lately—strategy. So often as business owners, we might know a whole list of “fixes” for our shops. Invest in digital marketing. Improve the inspection process. Create better onboarding for technicians. Whatever your list, you likely have it in your head right now. But the question is, what should you do first? What is the one aspect you should focus on right now that will make the biggest difference, that will set your business up for the overall improvements you need to make to achieve your goals?

Where should you start?

The first step is to understand that the success or failure of a strategy in your business is based far more on timing than the strategy itself. Most often, the problem isn’t what you’re doing; it’s which thing you choose to do. So often, we, as shop owners, focus so hard on the what that we don’t take the time to step back and make sure the what is even the right thing we should do—at that moment.

Who’s familiar with this story? Your car count is down. The shop is slow. And you know that you haven’t invested enough in marketing to really bring in new customers. So, you make a marketing push; really invest into this and make a big splash. Suddenly, your phone rings again and again and again. Your bays are suddenly filled, but you’re not making any more money—and by that I mean actual money added to your bottom line—because it’s a chaotic mess. What happened? You executed correctly. The entire what of your plan was perfect. Heck, the what worked perfectly. But you’re arguably in a worse spot than you were when you started, because marketing wasn’t what you needed—at least, not yet. What you needed to do was improve your processes and systems with in the shop to handle an influx of work. Then when you were ready to go, unleash the marketing and bring in the cars.

Maybe it’s not this exact scenario, but I’m guessing this type of story sounds familiar to a lot of you. This exact story is the reason why it can be so difficult to make positive change in your business. And, trust me, I’ve been there before. But the difference between where I am today and where I was, say, 10 years ago is that I figured out how to identify the which. I figured out how to find the red lever.

You can do it, too. Every single one of us can figure it out. Every single person who owns a shop right now can make his or her business larger than it is right now. Every single shop owner can become more profitable. We can all make these positive changes—if we change our strategy.

I have monthly “strategy calls” with shop owners across the country, and my only goal in those calls is to help them ask the right questions to gain the self-awareness they need to make these strategy choices on their own. I’m there to bounce ideas off and steer a bit, but it does no good for me to tell someone what to do. Sure, someone can offer a solution that works, and it feels great in the moment, but did you really improve? Are you ready to face the next challenge? Or are you just reliant on that person for the next step, too?

Growth comes through self-advice. You need to learn from mistakes and experience. You need to be honest about yourself, your team and your business. Where are the holes, the gaps, the problems? Get to the root of it.

(A quick tip: Systems always trump marketing. Having solid systems and processes in your operation is nearly always a clear starting point for change, and it’s the only way you can maximize your profitability.)

I want to help you get where you want to be. That’s the purpose of this column, and why I’ll write it every month. My friends at Ratchet+Wrench gave it the name “The Fixer,” and really that’s what we all need to see ourselves as. All of us are trying to fix something right now in our businesses. I guarantee you that every single one of you has something your working on at this very moment in your business. And that’s awesome. If you aren’t striving to improve, you’re in the wrong line of work.

So, do me a favor: Take a step back from your project right now. Look very critically at what you’re doing. Is this the right strategy right now that will make the biggest difference? If it’s not, change course. If it is, see it through. Let’s make 2018 our best year yet. Pull that red lever.

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