Besides myself I have one full time employee. I've been looking for months and can't seem to find anyone to work in the shop for what I'm willing to pay. I get plenty of resumes who ask for more than my guy with 10yrs with me and I make combined.
I find that I'm overwhelmed and waste a lot of time in the office. Everyday I get voicemails from customers that say " I called ten times today and nobody ever answers the phone". I tell them if I'm sitting at my desk product isn't being built.
Do you think it would be wise to hire office help rather than shop help? I don't particularly like the office side, and am 3x more productive than an employee would be in the shop.
How many employees did you have before you hired office help?
Keep in mind my sales process is all online and very fast.
My first accountant told me I could not get someone to do my bookkeeping fast enough. I had 1 or 0 employees at that time, I don't remember now. Some of the best advice & received and heeded. I'm not a bookkeeper!
First addition to the office staff for me was an outside bookkeeper. She came in once a month for 1-3 hours and did what would take me a couple of days. And, she likes doing books. Me? Not so much. She also understands both accounting and Quickbooks much, much more than I ever will in my lifetime. Keep in mind, that she is not an accountant. I use a professional CPA for my taxes, but that is a different profession and set of services.
I found her in one of the local networking groups that I occasionally attend. She has her own business doing books and teaching Quickbooks. That means I simply write a check to her company for her services instead of adding her to my payroll. Much easier to do it that way, in my opinion.
I hire people to do the things, like paperwork, that I don't like to do. That way I spend my time on the things that I like to do and am good at.
Another way to think about it is this:
Your time is the most valuable of any person in the shop. Therefore, if it takes you 4 hours to do the books, how much product can you make in those same 4 hours? The amount of product profit should exceed the cost of the hire. Therefore you will be making money by paying them while you build product.
Sounds like an 'office' person would do you some good, but I'd find someone that is also willing to help out in other ways! Someone who will answer the phone and take care of paperwork - but who also keep things organized for you, cleans up in the shop, (things that don't require your woodworking skills) and can be a general process improvement resource.
I feel like this is part of what I do in my position (though we are a woodworking software business, not a shop) and my boss said hiring me for 20-30 hours a week gave him 30 more hours a week to work on more important things.
I'm retired now, but I was also in your place 18 years ago. Today, there are professional answering services. They will sound like they are talking to someone at a desk in your shop. Then you get several messages and call them back when you take a break. That's the first thing you should do. Then look for part-time accounting, out sourcing your finishing, buying pre made components, and flat pack cabinets if you do kitchens. If that doesn't reduce the work load enough, then look to hire. Have you considered raising your prices?
A lot of us find out real quick when we go off on our own that we are good cabinet makers but no necessarily good business men. I learned the hard way and struggled through it. I didn't hire a book keeper, it's a waste of money with current technology the way it is. I do everything electronically that I can. Since you say your sales are done online, you should be doing this too. If you're doing anything electronically manually or with paper, you're doing it wrong. My bookkeeping is done in the cloud and I tie in our bank accounts and credit cards. Smartest thing I ever did. We don't even get any statements on paper anymore. All of the raw CC data is dumped into the book keeping account and intelligently organized. You can set up rules to categorize different transactions so every time you go to reconcile (I only do it once or twice a year now-a-days), it takes less time.
In regards to communication, you just have to be disciplined. I don't like to get stuck in the office any more than you, it feels like we aren't making progress even when we are selling new jobs. However, it's necessary. I limit communication (quotes/estimates, follow-ups) to twice a day (morning/evening), unless someone emails/calls me directly and I can respond on my tablet/cell phone in the shop and I can resolve it very quickly.
I always liked the philosophy, do what you know best, and focus all of your energy on that. If you are overwhelmed in the office and you feel another employee there will grow your business, go for it. But do make sure it's not something you could avoid with better organization and daily discipline, because that employee might buzz through what is bogging you down in half the time and spend the rest of the day on Facebook while you're knee deep in saw dust!
Thank you all for your replies. I have thought about and looked into an answering service, but felt I'd be spending money to create more work for myself. I want someone to be able to help a customer and give them a real answer, not just take a message that I have to follow-up on.
Sometimes people do have general questions and would just like to speak to a live person. I find this even more true with older customers.
But generally the number one questions is "where is my order/when will my order ship?".
I literally waste more of my day answering emails guessing when I can go do some real work then I do working in the shop. Then there is legitimate paperwork such as printing FedEx labels and uploaded tracking information etc. Also just actually printing and confirming receipt of an order can take some time as well.
But here comes the real question.....is office help more expensive than general labor help?
I have to agree with Paul. If your system is automated, why are customers asking about ship dates?
The automated ordering systems that I have seen inform customers up front of the approximate ship dates. Then, as the order progresses in the system, automated emails are generated that keep the customer informed. This does not need email the customer at every step in your internal process, of course. Just the ones that are important to them.
For example, the order is accepted. An automated email should thank them for the order, then tell them approximately when their product will be shipped. When the order is shipped an automated email will thank them again, and inform them that the order has been shipped and give them a tracking number. (I like the way UPS does this.) You could also generate additional emails along the way; extremely essential if there is any change to the estimated ship date.
There should be a place on your website that customers can submit inquiries. Some type of form will work for this. Then, you can respond on any/all of them at one time during the day so as to not interrupt your work/shop time.
I would not tell customers "if I'm sitting at my desk product isn't being built." That would tick me off if I was a customer of yours. They don't care who is building their product. They just want it.
A lot of this can be handled by properly setting customer expectations. The one area that you state is causing the most problems is shipping dates. Put yourself in a customer's place and review your ordering process. Or, better yet, have a third person (not your employee, but someone who is NOT familiar with the inside of your business operation) order something and see how the entire process works, from initial order to actual ship date. What communications are they receiving? What are they being told along the way? What are their expectations? Are you meeting/exceeding them?
Regarding meeting expectations: Be realistic when you set an estimated ship date. Allow yourself for a bit of leeway. Or, give a range of time (say, 1-2 weeks, 3-5 days, 6-8 weeks, or whatever your product does take to make, package, and ship), then set your internal goal to consistently beat the lower number. If you miss your internal goal, the customer still gets it within the expected time frame, and they are happy. If you beat their expectations, they will be even happier.
It does sound like you are spinning wheels and wasting time unnecessarily. It's time to expend effort working "on the business" in addition to "in the business." (Credit to E-Myth) Another perspective: "People, Process, and Product." (Credit to Marcus Lemonis) It appears that your process has some broken areas and needs some rework.
If you're ecommerce like us your shipping labels, order tracking, invoicing, all of it should be automated. If you're doing anything manually other than communication and listing maintenance, you're doing it wrong! Uploading tracking info is not the way to go. When you print a label, it should send it right to your customer. If your ecommerce management software doesn't do the above look around, there are so many choices these days for cheap and programmers are smart, they are making everything with APIs that talk to each other. Our cloud accounting grabs data directly from our ecommerce and bank accounts, and our ecommerce software handles all order ship date estimates based on pre-determined leadtimes.
I think if you spend a little time doing some research on what else is out there at your disposal and then grind at it for a few weeks and get it to a better place, you can avoid an employee. I understand the older customers, for us they are rarer by the day as most people are accustomed to email. For example, we are getting bogged down on custom work, but I am working on an automated solution so people can give specific input data and I can give them a quote automatically. These are the things we can do to avoid hiring people. Use the technology to take the load off.
Think about it, if you have hundreds of doors each week are you going to continue hand sanding, buy a wide belt sander, or hire more guys?
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