Road Warrior to Road Weary: When to Become "Road Wary"
It's always the goal- and dream- of every restorer, whether they want to admit it or not: have a Hurricane season full of storms, giving us a mother lode of work to capitalize on. Well, 2017 has certainly filled that bill, with massive damage in several regions, each one taxing the abilities of the industry to respond and help out. Now, add Puerto Rico into the mix, after yesterday's devastation at the hands of Hurricane Maria. Mind you, the East Coast is not out of the woods yet with Jose still swirling around in the Atlantic, not knowing what to do. And in case you forgot- there are still six more weeks to the "official" hurricane season.
For those who have travelled to assist those in need, our thanks and admiration go out to you. Even if your motivation was profit (and what is wrong with that?), your actions have helped a great many people. It's part of what makes our industry so great. If you are part of the "caravan" that went to Houston, and THEN on to Florida, my hat's off to you! By this point, you must all be in desperate need of a home-cooked meal and the comfort of your own bed!
As the days and weeks turn into months on the road, we must guard against the pitfalls that will, without fail, start to show themselves. As with everything else in life, fatigue can be a terrible harbinger of bad things to come. Physical fatigue can lead to sloppy work, injury or worse.
There is also a huge risk that you will encounter from "Business Fatigue." For nearly all of you, being on the road is not part of your normal business plan. Doing this kind of work exerts a great strain on your company, and failing to acknowledge the dangers is a sure recipe for failure. Here are the major signs of business fatigue, and some solutions for you to try:
HOME OFFICE- how much pressure is your road work putting on your office staff? More invoices, more collections issues, more bills to pay, logistics of travel, and cash flow issues are all happening and forcing a great deal of pressure on everyone. Not to mention, they are STILL operating the core business WITHOUT you and those you have taken on the road, including your assets! Think about bringing one of your office staff on the road with you. Set up a portable office at a central location. Have that person function like they would at home, but isolate the paperwork, invoicing and bills from the road in their hands. That way, there will be one line of communication between the field and the home office, and you will have greater control and understanding of things in the field, so your decisions can be made with greater knowledge.
WORKER BURNOUT- the lure of the road attracts many in our field, and the technicians love the idea of more work, greater challenges and lots more money! In their zeal for all three, they will never let you know that they are getting burned out until it is too late! Always be sensitive to their plight: schedule mandatory days off every six to eight days. If possible, let them go home every two weeks for a long weekend, or rotate your crews from the home base to the road every few weeks. It will keep things fresh and keep the quality of your work at a peak level.
NOT ENOUGH CASH- road work can be very lucrative, given the sheer numbers of projects that can be executed. The main problem that everyone runs into on the road is the lack of appropriate cash to fund operations until the money starts coming in. In most CAT sites, FEMA, NFIP and private pay are the three options available for payment. The last one is simple- do the work, get paid. The first two are far more time-consuming, meaning they are far more cash-consuming. Making simple errors in cash needs can cripple a road team right in its tracks. To avoid this, try to be reasonable about the type and amount of work you take on at any one time. Booking losses is great; making sure you can float yourself until you get paid is the most important thing.
Ever since I got into this business, I remember one of the first things that I learned. It came from a wise, older gentleman who had survived far longer than most of his contemporaries. His words are more appropriate now than ever, especially on the road. They are the rules that I live by when I travel, and all of my consulting clients are taught the very first day.
He told me always to remember the three most important parts of the business: "GET IN, GET OUT, AND GET PAID!"