Aligning Daily Operations With a Long-Term Vision

It’s common for business owners to get caught up in the day-to-day work without having a clear understanding of where they want the company to be headed

Aligning Daily Operations With a Long-Term Vision

Anja Smith

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When you first started your business, you glimpsed a future you felt confident pursuing. Maybe you had a dream so big you’d never admit it out loud, even to your spouse. Or maybe making your next mortgage payment was the extent of your planning, and the work hasn’t stopped.

I love this industry, but I’m going to guess most of you don’t have a written business plan. If you do, when was the last time you looked at it?

A bulk of companies lack a clear understanding of where the company should be in five years and how the owner will exit. I would say that the start of most plumbing and drain cleaning companies was probably similar to our own — a reaction to circumstances more than a well-planned step.

Work gets slow at your job, so you pick up side work and never stop. You get laid off for the season, quit because you hate your boss, or use the downtime from a work injury to line up a crew of your own. In these situations, the work sort of takes the momentum of the business and you get busy — no time for planning or thinking things through. No wonder so many of us wake up in five, 10, or 20 years and aren’t sure if what we’ve built is worth anything. We wonder how we will retire.

Whether your business is performing better than you ever dreamed or treading water, sit still for a few moments and ask yourself three questions: 

1. Am I proud of my organization?

Start by taking stock of where your business is today. Brutal honesty is critical, but try not to get bothered by the stuff that isn’t going so great. These are opportunities and every business in the world — even super successful ones — have them.

Be as thorough as you can, including big picture items like revenue as well as small details. Are you happy with how the phone is being answered? Is your accountant responsive and helpful? Do employee uniforms represent your brand well?

Sit with a pen and paper for 10 or 15 minutes and let things bubble to the surface. Just sit and think. Whatever comes to mind, good or bad, write it down. Don’t worry about how you are going to fix anything yet. This step is about taking an inventory.

The goal isn’t to beat yourself up. You shouldn’t get up and immediately fire your entire team either. Being the leader of a business is complex and requires a lot of unique skills, some of which may be a stretch for you.

In fact, don’t take immediate action on anything on this list. Stick it in a drawer and go about your business for a few days. Get back into the swing of things and you may find your perspective changing, your fears being confirmed, or clarity on a viable solution.

Once you’ve gotten some emotional distance from your list, go back to it. Prioritize your concern over the opportunities and take a moment to celebrate — preferably by giving credit where it is due — to what is going well.

2. Five years from now, what do I want to be true?

If you are a longtime technician or master plumber — as most plumbing and drain cleaning company owners are — and are most at home in the field just doing the work, using words like “hopes” and “dreams” might be uncomfortable for you.

If the idea of “dreaming” makes you grimace or squirm in your seat, think of it this way: Running a company without a vision is like laying sewer line without knowing where the connection is. You're digging a trench to oblivion, and eventually the poop is going to flow. Will you be ready?

First, let’s collectively accept a reality: You can’t work in the field forever. Your body will eventually require you to stop digging, crawling, and climbing. Even if you don’t want to stop working soon, you need to have a plan. If you are still working in the field, your minimum five-year plan is to stop doing that.

Let me lay down another reality for you. When you go to sell your company, it needs to be worth something without you. So unless your retirement plan is a wealthy aunt or uncle, plan to build the business beyond your own skills. (And/or be very good at saving and investing.)

Wherever you are in your “building the vision” landscape, put words to paper. I also recommend finding someone in your life to talk to about your vision. Owning a business is lonely if you don’t have trusted advisers.

Organizing your thoughts enough to write them down or speak them aloud is an important step. It helps move a dream into a plan, which is the next step.

3. How do I close the gap?

You have an honest accounting of your business. You have a goal for the business and a vision for what five years out looks like. Now you have to make the two meet somewhere in the middle. 

That will require change. Don’t get all excited about this and start making enormous shifts in your company overnight. Especially if those changes affect other people. That’s a quick way to mutiny. Accept that these shifts will take time. It’s likely that you will realize you have some hard walls to climb.

Maybe you realize money is a roadblock. How will you find more capital? Maybe you realize you need to ask your field crew members to change their behavior or provide extra accountability. Employees are typically resistant to doing things differently. Don’t ask for too much too soon. Make sure that transition isn’t so abrupt that you hurt today’s operations and revenue for the promise of a better tomorrow.

What you are embarking on is termed “change management.” Employing effective change requires patience, perseverance, and consistency. I suggest starting with your own behaviors and habits and then working outward.

Trust that your vision is worth the work ahead. You’ll feel uncertain sometimes. That’s normal. But writing out victories and opportunities, detailing out a vision for a better future, and planning out change one step at a time will help ensure your dreams come true.

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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