Updated: Jan 26, 2021
You’ve been doing really well installing solar. You’ve got a great crew that knows how to install permitted solar arrays that reliably pass inspections. Your sales team is killing it too. Too well. In fact, your success is extending your backlog out for months. You’re starting to lose customers because they have to wait so long to get their projects installed. Your project manager doesn’t see her family anymore. You need more people to meet the demand for your product
It’s time to grow.
At first, it seems that everything’s coming up roses. Your backlog is 6 months long and your sales team is still killing it. Having to grow is a good problem to have. You’ve got contracts signed that have committed money to your coiffeurs. We’ll all be driving Teslas by the end of the year, right? Maybe.
Getting your ducks in a row.
As with most things, it seems like the simplest thing to do is the right thing to do. Hire another crew and it will all work out. Your backlog will be cut in half. Problem solved. Maybe; maybe not. Will that solution help in 3 months when you need another crew? Will it work in a year from now when you’ve got 6 crews and are thinking about serving another region? The solution you use now may be holding you together with duct tape and string. How will it scale with you as you grow?
Ask yourself these questions:
Where do we want to be in 5 years?
Will this solution be able to handle that?
Will we have to go through this process of developing a solution every time we have to grow?
One of the biggest problems startups face when they’re about to grow is not knowing what they don’t know. One of our favorite quotes from Nicolaus Copernicus (our namesake) is
To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.
In business, it’s important to know that your team might not have every skill it needs. Just because every position on your staff has someone in it does not mean you’re complete. Do an honest assessment of your company like a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is an assessment that studies your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Leave no stone unturned. Include the staff you might not have. Do you need a second or third accountant? As you scale, you may need a dedicated IT person. You’ll also need an HR person or an office manager. Study your policies, contracts, projects, warehouse(s), vehicle(s), tools and most importantly, your software. Will these scale with you? Does any of it shoot you in the foot? Are you taking on too much?
It’s a lot to learn and it may be a wild-ass guess. But the longer you wait to figure it out, the rockier growing becomes. Not knowing your own company leads many startups to fail, especially if you’re not educated in business and have never scaled before.
Begin with where you want to end up. How many markets do you want to be in? Does everyone on your team earn competitive salaries? What needs to be in place to make that happen? How much will that cost? How well must your sales team do to enable that? Will your software be able to handle it with the complexity of a staff that size?
Pay your team what they deserve. This is one of the biggest complaints out there among solar installers. Solar is a growing market. It’s finally maturing to where there are many installers who have worked long enough to really know their worth. Don’t make it so they want to get paid more somewhere else.
Figure out how much work your office workers can handle in a 40 hour work week. Productivity decreases and errors increase steadily after reaching 37.5 hours in a week. If everyone on your team works 60 hour weeks, they won’t be doing their best work and you’ll have more work to check over, run-backs, and headaches to deal with. You won’t have a clear idea of how many people you actually need. It’s just not sustainable.
Set milestones i.e., once we reach $XXk/month, we’ll hire an Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable. Once our backlog reaches 6 months, we hire another install crew. The sooner you plan to scale, the easier scaling will be. If you plan for where you want to be in 5 years, the numbers you determine will let you know if your pricing models are on point or if the costs of your equipment are too high. These numbers can show you if you’re capable of expanding to other types of contracts like PPAs or leases.
Evaluate your tech stack. For non-technical people, the tech stack is the group of apps that you use to complete the goals you set. A common solar tech stack includes a CRM like Monday, a spreadsheet like Excel to view project statuses, an accounting app like QuickBooks, a timekeeping software for your field workers, and a shared file server like Google Drive. Can your stack scale past 100 projects? What happens when you add office staff like a permitting specialist or scheduler? Do you trust that spreadsheet with that many users? Can it get you to that 5 year goal?
More to ask about your tech stack:
How many places do we store our project data? If the answer is more than one, you’re on dangerous ground. That system reduces the productivity of your team and adds the possibility of error.
Are there any automations in place? If the answer is no, you’ve got teammates manually (inefficiently) entering data in different places. Any manual work seems cheaper until you realize the work they could be doing somewhere else instead. There’s also real danger that the data is entered into the wrong places or the wrong data is entered in.
Are you able to track key performance indicators (KPIs) over time?
Are you able to create repeatable processes for your field workers?
Will it work with a second warehouse?
Does it deal with equipment inventory?
Can you integrate accountability?
How long does it take your field workers to upload photographs?
Do you have a full-time IT professional?
Scaling and competing is simply impossible without an integrated, cloud-based management-system like Coperniq. Cloud-based systems provide reliability, expandability, and speed to whichever market you want to expand to. Not having a scalable, automated, and integrated solution is the single biggest obstacle to effective growth. Without it, your growth could fall apart like a house of cards.
Contact us if you’ve reached this point and are still looking for your 5-year solution.
SWOTsolarsolar industrysolar installersolar operations and maintenancesolar O&MO&Mmaintenancesolar ownerssolar operationssolar maintenancegrowthscalingintegratingscalegrowworkloadworkflowsolar workflowsolar installsolar installationsolar investingsolar capitalswot analysisstrategic planningbusiness caseproject managementsolutionsoperationsopstechnologyfieldfield worker