Power Forward! | Solar installer strategy planning in 2023 and beyond

Solar installer business strategy is not one size fits all. On this Power Forward! we chat with Robert Wolff, VP of Strategy with BayWa r.e., about the questions solar leaders should ask of their business to best lay that strategic foundation. With the market potential in 2023 and beyond (as well as the ongoing supply struggles), strategy planning might be more important than ever.

Watch our full 13-min conversation above. Below is our discussion on year-end assessments, and how that should influence your future-looking strategy.

How do you advise solar installers to approach a year-end assessment?

Wolff: I think when we look back, asking the questions of how did your company function this past year? You can break that out in a bunch of different ways: financially, process-wise, employees, and obviously with inflation and what’s happened — lots of challenges there.

Some other questions like, was your team aligned? In terms of where you were going and how you’re going to get there.

Bigger questions around what could you have done better? I feel like every company is kind of striving to be better. Does everyone agree how you’re going to make improvements to the business? Make sure that folks are aligned with how you are of making those improvements.

And what more could have leadership done in order to lead? You’ll see throughout this I’ll go back to leadership because it is a critical piece.

So, for most companies the answers to these are going to be “no” or “sort of” or “we did okay.” But for a lot of these questions, that’s where you start. So, understand the past so that way you can plan for next year and years to come.

This is Power Forward! after all so now let’s transition to that forward outlook. What forward-looking planning should be happening right now? Both the year end thinking and then even the three-to-five-year window you mentioned.

Wolff: I don’t want to scare people by saying five years. I met with a customer last night and two years is enough for them, so let’s not scare everybody with five.

First things first, a company needs to understand who they are, where they want to go and how they’re going to get there. Those are obviously very large questions to ask but no strategy is valuable unless you know the answers to those questions, which can open up some difficult conversations personally and internally within the business. So, being able to answer these discovery questions, like:

  • Where do you want your company to be in one to — I won’t say five–  but let’s say one to three years, financially, geographically, culturally, operationally. You can break it down to all your different organizations or departments.
  • Do you understand who your company is to your customers, to your employees, to your partners?
  • Are you informed about current policy and market trends? And where are you getting that information? Are you connected to CALSSA or any other types of organizations in order to understand policy trends?
  • What is your unique value proposition to your customers, and how are you differentiated in your market? That’s a large question to ask but critical.
  • Do you have all of your operational process flows mapped out? As folks scale and bring on new talent and new people, having those mapped out so that way new employees have the right set of tools in order to do their role is very important.

All these pieces and a lot more are critical to start to build out that strategy approach.

The tricky part of this discussion is just how drastically different approaches can be based on the installer, their size, their geography. So it’s tough to get too specific but can you walk us through some standout caveats or key questions installers can think about in relation to their specific company?

Wolff:  We all know that not every strategy is a one size fit all, so I’m glad you call that out. Each company needs to apply a strategic process to their own attributes, and one of the most important aspects in this is understanding the scope. Questions like:

  • Why is it important for your leadership team to build a strategy?
  • What’s the value of a strategy for your company, your employees, your customers?
  • What commitment is it going to require from different members of your team?
  • Who’s really going to drive the strategy development and execution?

It’s so important to think about the scope of building and aligning to a strategy. So often I see businesses build a strategy and think it’s going to fix all their problems. It just isn’t. Then three months later down the road, everyday work kind of catches up with everybody and then strategy is forgotten.

Commitment to strategy requires constant check-ins, an insane amount of accountability across different departments, and the discipline really is paramount and, once again I call back: leadership is critical.

Pick up the discussion right there:

As we discuss:

  • 7:52 – Building strategy that reflects supply chain concerns
  • 9:12 – Strategy is not planning and other major mistakes to avoid when strategy planning
  • 10:40 – Strategy leadership reading recommendations
  • 11:49 – What installers can miss when planning strategy

Have you checked out our YouTube page?

We have a ton video interviews and additional content on our YouTube page. Recently we debuted Power Forward! -- a collaboration with BayWa r.e. to discuss higher level industry topics as well as best practices / trends for running a solar business today.

Our longer running side project is The Pitch -- in which we have awkward discussions with solar manufacturers and suppliers about their new technology and ideas so that you don't have to. We discuss everything from residential rail-less deck attaching and home solar financing to large-scale energy storage value stacking and utility-driven new home solar + storage microgrids.

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