Lack of paper trail leads to cautionary tale

By |  March 22, 2019
PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/SMOLAW11

PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/SMOLAW11

Several years ago, a fellow pest management professional (PMP) operating in a market outside of mine called and asked me to share how we do business. Upon my invitation, he paid a visit to my office.

I spent several hours trying to mentor him, explaining our business operations. He was new to the pest control industry, and was operating by the seat of his pants. Yet he painted a picture that his business was just fine and dandy. In the weeks and months after our visit, he called me several times to talk about different business situations, and I was always happy to help.

The problems begin

About a year later, I received a call from his widow — yes, widow. I never talked to or even met her, but she called me to let me know he died, ask advice, and get some help. He had told her about our many conversations, and she was now looking to me for comfort and assistance. She did not work for her late husband’s pest management business, which had only one other employee. She and the other employee were not licensed (I should point out that my wife, Tammy, and our daughter Lori are licensed).

I advised her to get together some information, and told her I would call back the next day to see what she assembled. I asked her to gather a list of all of the accounts — with names, addresses, phone numbers, types of service, and the service charges — and to check and see whether her employee could take the license exam to become a legal pest control operator. The state regulators informed her no service could be performed until the company employed a licensed PMP. Basically, the business was gone. The employee passed his test the next month, so that problem was solved. Now, the sad part: She did not have a non-compete agreement with this one-and-only employee. I bet you can see what is coming

She searched high and low, but there was very little paperwork. The company had no service agreements with its customers; her husband had assured her all the information was in his head. There were no established routes or service times; customers received service when he or his tech showed up. They didn’t even use service tickets! Her husband operated on a mostly cash basis and had no computer system to help keep track of daily operations. It was a disaster waiting to happen, and it did happen.

The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when she fired the one-and-only employee who held a license. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire! He took and serviced the accounts he could remember, and charged customers whatever they wanted to pay, as no records could be found.

An important lesson

I’ve thought about this unfortunate situation for years. I feel so sad for this family. Where did I go wrong? Should I have stressed the need for service agreements, service tickets and other important records with this fellow as I talked with him about how to run his business? I guess I just thought he already had those basics down. It’s a classic case of “never assume.”

You can learn from these tragic mistakes. Look at your business and see what needs to be refined. Get your affairs in order for your family, should you meet your maker sooner than expected. Build your business so it will be ready to sell one day, and take steps now to preserve your estate.

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