We definitely don’t know much of anything, but we know what mistakes we made last year (Nathan prefers they be called “painful learning opportunities”). Fortunately, we know enough about (some of) our mistakes to take a lesson or two from them.
We are sharing what we learned from 2022 so other small business owners don’t fall into the same traps we did last year.
1. What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate
At the end of 2021, we went out with a bang – and definitely in the opposite of whatever is a good way.
‘The Christmas Kerfuffle’ was a knock-down drag-out ugly slew of wrong messages about our trash pickup that got so bad, we had to issue a statement on all of our social media platforms admitting we screwed up – bad.
The Adams Facebook Guy (AKA the marketing guy) hid in a closet for like three weeks.
The messages, sent out to roughly 14,000 customers in Milton, Pace, Crestview, Baker and Holt were so confusing that people called into the office for every moment of every day to figure out what in the world was going wrong over here.
Here’s what we learned:
- Messages must be run through several people in an editing chain before they go out to customers. That means someone can’t just write up a message about anything from discounts on services, to changes for holidays, or even emergency alternate routes, without at least two people getting eyes on the message to make sure that the right information goes to the right people at the right time.
- People are generally very gracious around Christmastime.
Try to give people as much advance notice about schedule changes to your service that result from a holiday. We would recommend an initial note a week and a half out, another a couple of days before the change happens, and then a social media post on the day of the change or interruption. People are busy, they may just not see your messages if you send one or two- also, the most difficult to reach customers may require smoke signals.
Heads up – this video (about World War II) is violent, contains blood and gore and is definitely not for children.
It does, however, slightly resemble our training program about a year and a half ago.
2. Training Programs Are Important
Have you ever seen the movie Enemy at the Gates? At the movie’s beginning, Jude law leaves a barge crossing the Volga river with a bunch of Soviet conscripts to fight the Germans for Russia’s survival in World War II.
Only issue was; Law’s character and many of the other conscripts didn’t have a rifle or ammo to shoot at the Germans with.
As you might imagine – most actors had short screen time in the movie due to their characters getting mowed down by Germans who actually had guns.
The movie accurately shows the ridiculous conditions and situation Soviet soldiers had to overcome to kick the Nazis out of Russia.
It also pretty accurately sums up Adams Sanitation’s employee training program at the beginning of 2022. Our jumpers (the guys and gals on the back of the truck who tip your garbage cart) were sent out without any real training. In January 2022, our turnover rate peaked at round 40%… for the month – and the average jumper had been on the job for just 19 days!
The casualty count was high, even for an industry known for hard work and high turnover. Now some of this was the weird post-covid economy we found ourselves in but we acknowledged that we had a problem at least in part of our own making and decided we needed to do something about it. Here’s what we did:
- We implemented a robust onboarding and training program: So, this one would seem super obvious to a bigger company. You need an onboarding and training program to ensure people know how to do their job without getting hurt or slowing the company down. But, just a couple of years ago – we had just 2.5 employees and about 1,500 customers. You could say our need for a training program was… less necessary. But as we increased the number of customers we had by an order of magnitude and grew our company employee rolls by 2800%, that had to change. This meant creating a half-day classroom-style training course for our drivers and jumpers – and giving new employees training officers to show them how to do the job correctly.
- We added an HR Manager Position: Many small business owners see HR as dreaded overhead – sometimes that’s true. But a focused and driven HR operation saved us tens of thousands of dollars in employee turnover.
- We started asking about problems on trucks: in the last year, we beefed up our DVIR (driver vehicle inspection report) process. Instead of hearing someone say something about an issue with a truck and maybe getting to it, or not getting around to it until something broke, there’s now a paper trail and a process to make sure trucks get fixed – reducing frustration and longer days on the job. Those issues meant a bigger truck maintenance budget – but we also noticed that reducing truck downtime, reduced crew overtime, and increased our field crew members’ average length of stay as an Adams Sanitation employees.
Those changes took us from our frontline jumpers having an abysmally low average of 19 days on the job – to now six times that low water mark and continuing to see constant improvement. .
3. Owners Can't Go AWOL
So, Nathan (our Chief Trash Officer) has been hard at building this business over the last five years. He’s entitled to a break every now and then – he’s also the boss, so we kind of have to let him take a vacation.
But Nathan has learned this year how much we need him!
That’s because he’s The process and policy guy. Like every small business owner (well, that’s Crystal) he needs to make sure he is in the thick of building out the process so that when he does leave, the business doesn’t need him for every little thing.
He can’t micromanage us – there’s just too much to do. But, having him physically present and available to talk through problems and strategy makes all of the difference. At the point, he’s the (very very old) man on the mountain we go to to make sure the business is going in the right direction.
In closing, the three big lessons we learned from this year were to
- Overcommunicate with customers about changes in their schedule
- Create a formal training mentoring process for new employees – even if you are a small business
- Don’t go AWOL
We hope this info helps you with your business, current or future!
-The Adams Family.