Perfect Paperwork Brings New Business
With the tough economy taking a big bite out of income, many shop owners are looking to sources they wouldn’t have considered not so long ago. Government contracts are infamous for their slow pay, and many shops wouldn’t have bothered going after General Services Administration (GSA) contracts with the many attached strings. Yellow Pages advertising might seem passé. And refinancing capital expenditures may be essential to the health of your bottom line. In today’s market, more shops are willing to look just about anywhere for reliable jobs, revenue and cost reductions—even if that means incredible attention to detail on excruciating amounts of paperwork.
NAVIGATING GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
It’s no secret that GSA contracts come with lots of strings attached. One requirement for many such contracts is to be recognized as a small or minority business. Many shops should qualify, but jumping through the hoops to achieve that designation calls for a level of exactness comparable to repairing and refinishing the most damaged vehicle you can imagine. And while you might think that attention to a vehicle’s details should carry over to the administrative side of the business, I’ve often seen that precisely the opposite is true!
In one shop, for example, a front desk employee was asked to prepare the paperwork needed to apply for small business status. The owner assumed this was a fairly simple task. But the employee encountered a minefield of technicalities and complexities like the following:
“To do business with the Federal government and to be certified under the 8(a) Program, you must register in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database, and complete the Small Business Supplemental Page within CCR. You must also register for an account in the [Small Business Administration’s] General Log-in System (GLS). Submit a completed electronic application, following the step-by-step directions provided by the system. Also, you must mail in signed hard-copy versions of all required forms, as well as all required supporting documentation outlined in the ‘Checklist’ provided by the system.”
This turned out to be anything but straightforward. “Supporting documentation” called for tax returns for the past several years and detailed financial information that the front desk employee didn’t have. When she asked for the necessary information, she discovered that the owner would need at least several uninterrupted hours (if not days) to assemble the required documents. And how many shop owners do you know who have “several uninterrupted hours?” This application for small business status has yet to be filed a few months later.
If the obstacles can be overcome, securing small business status can open doors even beyond national and local government agencies to colleges, universities and nongovernment facilities like hospitals and nonprofits like the American Red Cross. Regardless of what you think about the preferential treatment afforded a company just because it is a “small business,” it would be unfortunate in this tough economy if a competitor seized the advantage just because of a lack of paperwork proficiency.
MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE PRECISE
Exactness in maintaining paperwork is rarely anyone’s favorite activity, but it can be one key to solvency in a difficult time like this. Other opportunities for the precise shop owner include:
Expanded Advertising. A shop manager I spoke to was weighing the pros and cons of advertising in some of the new Yellow Page books that were springing up in his area. I asked if he had a budget for this kind of expenditure. A search of Quickbooks found that various expenditures for advertising, promotional giveaways and other new business development activities were scattered in multiple categories and difficult to compile into one comprehensive budget. Without a budget comparing at least the past three years, how could he know if there was money to be spent on additional Yellow Page advertising?
Better Financing. Many shops have significant payments due on financed equipment and expansion projects. With interest rates at an all-time low, this could be an excellent time to renegotiate and adjust loans. Of course, your lending institution is going to want to see proper documentation before it lowers your rates.
STIMULATING YOUR SHOP’S GROWTH
With stimulus programs now on the scene, it could be in your interest to find out if there is a way to benefit from all the government-supported, paperwork-dependent financial help available during this economic downturn. To take advantage of these opportunities, your shop must have documentation up-to-date and available. It may be time to apply that meticulous exactness used to straighten a frame or calculate an exact color match to those tedious fiscal tasks. Your precision could make all the difference in surviving today’s challenging business climate.
Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.