How to Avoid Growing Your Restoration Business to the "Zone of Pain"

As a restoration business owner, you always have big dreams and ambitious goals that you want to achieve. I’ve helped consult several restoration contractors over the years and noticed a distressing pattern. Many restoration entrepreneurs can achieve rapid growth in short periods of time. However, without a strong foundation, restoration entrepreneurs grow to hate their business instead of falling in love with it.

I call it the “zone of pain” when a company grows so big and fast without a solid foundation. In the moment, you might get blinded by your quick success, but that same strategy might not work two or three years down the line. For example, your company could currently be raking in a million dollars, but those same strategies won’t always work when you’re bringing in 5 to 10 million dollars a year. I have seen it happen countless times when a company sees an influx of business. Despite having all the necessary resources, including equipment, trucks, and employees, there seems to be no time to catch a break. If you continue down the same path, it can and will cause massive burnout in your employees.

So how do you know if you’ve hit that zone of pain? I’ve seen this occur to several restoration companies that have grown 50 to 100% year over year with healthy bottom lines. The more a company grows, the less structure and leadership it tends to have. I’ve seen very overwhelmed restoration owners struggle with the stress they deal with on a daily basis. If you’ve felt any of the following “symptoms,” you know you’ve hit the zone of pain.

Zone of Pain Symptoms

It feels painful to keep growing due to chaos

The owner is involved heavily in all aspects of the business

The leadership team feels as though they are "babysitting everyone."

Employees feel burnt out

Receivables are through the roof

A lack of consistency when getting tasks accomplished

There are ways where you can take proactive measures to prevent yourself from getting to that zone of pain. So that’s why it’s crucial to begin implementing structure early on, and create the leadership team. Once you build your team, you must continue to work on building up that team. So how soon should you start? As early as your first $3MM of revenue, you should begin creating the operational nucleus of the company. When you start building your leadership team, you need three key roles to build that foundation. These individuals make up the backbone of your company.

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1) Production Manager:

This person is responsible for recruiting and managing the entire production team—everyone from technicians and up. Anyone who visits customers’ houses directly reports to him-her. As a restoration entrepreneur, you must trust this person to handle this piece of this business and delegate all matters related to production to them. You must trust them to be able to execute on the vision.

2) Sales Manager/Marketing Manager:

You work alongside the sales manager and share your vision with them. Their role is to execute the vision, whether it’s hitting that ideal sales go or getting (X percentage) of new customers. They are responsible for managing the sales and marketing efforts.

3)Administrative Manager:

This person oversees the entire office/support team. Their role is to ensure that the administrative functions of the business are running smoothly and efficiently. They work closely with the other members of the leadership team to ensure that the company is meeting its goals and objectives. Anyone who writes estimates collects money and does bookkeeping reports to this person.

When assembling your team, keep in mind that each member can handle specific responsibilities. When you work closely with them, you’ll realize how much the output can grow.

If you feel like you’re in the zone of pain and your company makes over 3 million dollars a year, your top priority should be to develop a solid foundation. There is no way to take a shortcut with this process; if you continue down the same path, you will run into hurdles that will hurt your business. It will make you want to make rash decisions like wanting to shrink your company down, and instead of growing and scaling your business, you are stumping its growth.

Finding suitable candidates for these roles can be challenging. This process can be painful in the short run. It can take up to a year, require significant personnel changes, and can stall your growth for that year. Although that may sound unpleasant, it’s just the small price you have to pay to help establish the true backbone of your company. You’ll eventually find that taking that time to build the foundation can pay off exponentially as you continue to grow.

Once you’ve established the foundation and you’re working through a core leadership team, you will be able to grow exponentially and have the freedom you deserve as a business owner. Most entrepreneurs end up devoting so many hours of their time to their businesses instead of their businesses serving them. That’s why it’s crucial to have reliable leaders to have your back. Otherwise, you’ll be the first one to experience burnout.

As an owner, you should ensure that your leadership team executes your plans. Having this team built earlier on will significantly help. Here are some examples of how these essential employees can help get you out of the zone of pain:

Examples of how building a foundation can help

You notice that revenue has grown from $2MM to $3MM, and you're on a positive growth trajectory. You decide that it's time to amp up your mitigation crew and add more equipment. You let the production manager know what budget they're working with and give them the green light to get the vehicle, personnel, and equipment. You share your vision with them, and their job is to execute it.

You notice that receivables have started creeping up. You task your administrative manager to find out why this is happening. In this situation, I would challenge them to adopt the 1:3:1 rule (it's identifying what the problem is and coming up with three solutions). After they've completed this, you let them pitch what they believe is the best solution; from there, you work together to narrow down a final decision. You'll realize that whenever there's a "fire" (problem), you can rely on someone else to help put it out for you.

You want to expand your marketing efforts to marketing to plumbers. You put together the plan on how you will market to plumbers, the value propositions, and the budget. You delegate to your sales manager to execute the sales plan.

As a leader, you have the most important task to guide your specialists toward a specific objective. They are responsible for carrying out your vision. When choosing the “right” people, make sure they display leadership qualities. It’s important to get along with the people you work with, but keep in mind they don’t have to be identical to you. It’s more valuable to have someone who may not agree with you but offers a different viewpoint rather than someone who always agrees with you.

Upon interviewing someone, you may notice the candidate doesn’t exhibit the same visionary skills you carry. Still, if they have good tactical strategies for accomplishing tasks and motivating others, that will help significantly. If you take proactive steps early on, you can avoid getting stuck in the “zone of pain” by creating that strong foundation and backbone, you are ensuring that you’re building something that can grow and scale to the goals you want to meet.

Alex Duta

A former co-founder of an 8-figure fire & water restoration company based out of Chicago, IL. Alex is passionate about propelling the insurance damage restoration industry into the future. In addition to Albi, he partners with restorers to accelerate and scale their restoration business. Feel free to follow and add Alex on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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