By Dan Schmidt

Running a restoration business is hard work by any measure. With about half of small businesses with employees closing their doors after five years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it takes a lot of time, commitment, and planning to chart a successful course for your company and grow your team. So how do you develop a roadmap for success?

When I started my one-man restoration business five years ago, I was responding to service calls day and night, but every job provided a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. Eventually, I was able to hire extra help, obtain more specializations, and navigate a course that resulted in record growth in 2019, more than doubling my company’s workforce—from 17 to 43—and opening three new locations. How was this accomplished?

Having a multi-dimensional approach to planning is key. This includes examining your business from multiple angles to determine strategies to build your customer base, grow your team, purchase more equipment, develop a network of industry professionals, and maintain great customer service while scaling the business.

As you plot your business trajectory, consider these tips that have served my company well.

1 | Think outside the box.

If your company is based outside hurricane or other disaster zones, consider deploying resources to regions needing emergency restoration services. According to Cleanfax’s 2019 Restoration Benchmarking Survey Report, more companies are doing just that. The survey report shows a 4% increase—from 39% to 43%—over 2018 in the number of companies that have ventured outside their local areas for large-scale disasters.

Beyond water mitigation, responding to storm-prone regions outside your local area can provide your company hands-on experience in specialized areas from storm, sewage, and large loss mitigation to contents cleaning and reconstruction.

Responding to these regions also enables you to expand your customer base by providing valued help to property owners when the region may be short on both manpower and equipment. Many customers will appreciate your willingness to travel to the region and so will other restoration professionals with whom you can partner and develop relationships for future projects.

2 | Invest profits back into the business.

When your company is offered larger jobs and you’re short on both equipment and employees, it’s time to think about rolling your profits back into the business. Take the plunge and consider buying more drying equipment and another vehicle and hiring extra help. If you grow your team and your resources, you will be able to accept projects that come along rather than passing on lucrative opportunities.

After investing in added resources, you’ll be well-equipped to handle more projects and respond to more areas outside your region. Once it becomes difficult to keep up with the workload from other regions, consider opening a new location.

Expanding to a new location is a big step, so it’s important to research the market well to determine the competition in that region and whether there is enough demand to keep your business thriving.

3 | Make search engine optimization your friend.

A key element in success is creating opportunities for customers to learn about your offerings. In today’s crowded digital environment, it’s essential to have a visible and credible online presence. Search engine optimization (SEO) should be a top resource in every business owner’s toolkit to generate leads, promote trust, and attract more work in a competitive environment.

According to Clutch’s 2019 Small Business SEO Survey, more than a third of the businesses surveyed had an SEO strategy heading into 2019, and an additional 38% planned to have an SEO strategy in 2019 or later.

If you aren’t sure how to get started, conduct online research and speak with well-known people in the SEO and marketing industry. Learn about the process and costs, and if your budget allows, consider SEO as a worthwhile investment to building your company’s profile and landing on your potential customers’ radar.

4 | Build new relationships and nurture existing ones.

The most important relationships you can cultivate are with your employees. They’re the heart and soul of your business. As you grow your team, it’s important to invest in them as well, recognizing that each person is vital to your success. This will build a solid foundation so you can continue to scale your business when the time is right.

External relations are also important in this industry. Fostering relationships with other restoration professionals—including those outside your local area when responding to other disaster zones—is key to forming partnerships on current and future projects and keeping abreast of any potential needs for service outside your local area.

Reliability is also key to building these relationships, so it’s important to deliver on the promises you make to your restoration partners and hold up your end of agreements so that you’re remembered as being both reliable and dependable—valuable traits in this industry.

5 | Always be available.

When growing your business, it’s important to be fully invested. This means committing 100 percent of your time and energy to the business day or night, especially when you’re starting out. It also means having laser-like focus, a passion for your field, and an ongoing thirst for knowledge so you can adapt to changes in the business environment and successfully plan for your business’ growth.

According to CB Insights’ analysis of 101 startup failure post-mortems, failing to pivot, loss of focus, and both a lack of passion and knowledge in the field and were among the top 20 reasons for startup failures.

Remember, you’ll receive what you put into your business. The roadmap for success requires you to be solutions-oriented when challenges arise, carefully plan your business’ trajectory, and envision yourself reaching important milestones at designated points in time. Once you reach those points, both the journey and the results will be well worth it.

Dan Schmidt is the CEO of Service Restoration, Inc., a multistate restoration company that provides immediate response to property disasters and is A-rated by the Better Business Bureau. With more than 20 years of construction experience, he is IICRC-certified in water, large loss, sewage, and fire mitigation, contents cleaning, trauma scene cleanup, and rebuilds.