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How to build a multi-million dollar electrical contracting business

John Horan started his business, Horan and Bird, with his wife out of their garage, as many electrical contractors do.

Over eight years, he and his team built a $35 million, multi-award-winning enterprise.

We sat down with John to discuss how he achieved such tremendous growth and to get his top 6 tips for new electrical contractors.

1. Start with the end in mind

If you do not have a destination, you are on the road to nowhere. You must build your business with a firm idea of the direction you want to take it.

In 2010, John set a five-year plan. He was going to build one of the largest solar companies in Queensland and then list on the Australian Stock Exchange or sell privately.

This decision influenced every aspect of how the company operated and grew.

“For the business to be appealing to buyers, we needed to create something that someone else wanted, with the foundations to support it. So that’s what we built”, says John.

Are you currently operating in alignment with your end goal? Consider how an end goal might influence how your business operates today.

2. Get mentored

Having a business coach or mentor will help to shorten your learning curve and open your mind to new ideas and possibilities.

It’s also a great way to keep yourself accountable for reaching the milestones along the way to achieving your ultimate goal.

John surrounded himself with very experienced people who helped him steer the business to where he wanted it to be.

“It’s like having a personal trainer at the gym. I know I wouldn’t work as hard if I didn’t have a PT there pushing and guiding me”.

“And just like a PT, sometimes you have to pay for business coaching. Don’t be afraid of this. The value they will give you far outweighs the cost”, explains John.

There are lots of business coaches and mentors out there, just make sure you work with one who has the skills and industry knowledge that you need for your business.

3. Find your secret sauce

When everyone is the same, it’s hard for your customers to see you differently.

“I see too many electricians trying to do the same thing. They are not making themselves different or creating a niche”, says John.

Once John set the goal to be one of Queensland’s largest solar companies, he built a business around how they were going to be different, fast, agile, and better than their competitors.

“We built one of the largest sales teams in the game and created our own supply chain.”

“This was our secret sauce. We made it so that it couldn’t be replicated and it was scalable”, explains John.

4. The business should be able to operate without you

Setting up the business to run without you means having the right systems and processes in place, as well as the right staff.

John made sure his business had systems and processes for everything! From how people answered the phone, to how they quoted, to automated surveys after every job.

“No one will invest in a business that relies too heavily on the business owner.”

“And what happens if you get sick or, for whatever reason, can’t perform to the standard you want? This can significantly impact your plans if the business comes to a halt when you aren’t there”, says John.

5. Always be learning

Electrical contractors must always be learning if they want to gain the business skills they need and the industry knowledge required to remain competitive.

“You have to be open and be a sponge for knowledge. Don’t be a know it all. There are so many people out there who are willing to help, but you have to be prepared to listen and take action”, explains John.

6. Bring your staff along for the ride

If your staff are to contribute meaningfully to your business goals, you must (1) be able to communicate what these goals are, and (2) ensure each staff member understands how their contribution makes an impact to the business.

John made sure that his team understood his plans for the business and how they were going to help get there.

“This was critical to our success and enabled us to build and motivate a team who have a love for the environment and were passionate about sustainability”, explains John.

In 2015, right on schedule, John and his business partner Scott Bird sold Horan and Bird to Origin Energy. John Horan is now the president of Master Electricians Australia and has this to say about us: “Master Electricians Australia is the nation’s leading business partner, knowledge source and advocate for electrical contractors”.

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