Here are the top 10 most important things that I think a contractor can do nowadays. They’re in no particular order, although I have to admit I’m very partial to that last one.
Know your weaknesses and your strengths.
Dirty Harry Callahan said it best. “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” You should know and understand yours and then deal with them. For instance, if you’re not comfortable with numbers, hire someone who is. If you can’t stand managing people, don’t put yourself in a position where you have to do that. If you’re not good at something by the time you reach 30, you’re probably not going to get any better at it as the years go by. It’s just your nature. Deal with it and play on your strengths. Focus on what you do best. Think about what sort of work you would do for free? What makes you the happiest? That’s your strength. If your love the tools, then focus on being a mechanic and get help with the business end of the business. Revel in what you’re good at and don’t dwell on what you can’t do. I’m pretty sure Michael Jordon can’t install a radiant heating system, but that doesn’t stop him from doing what he does best. Be like Mike.
Because so many other contractors don’t. And I’m not just talking about being on time (although that’s important); I’m talking about just showing up as a pro and getting the job done. Pros have a special way of looking at the world. They prepare themselves to solve technical problems. They gather the knowledge and the tools and the staff and they have a network of people standing behind them who are ready to help. Then they show up and do the job for the customer. They give a fair price, based on sound business practices, and they don’t whine. They can fix anything from an old vapor-steam system to a modern radiant floor because they’re the professionals.
And that’s what sets you apart from the guy at the home center. You show up. Every day.
Many of the contractors I’ve met over the years have been afraid to go back to their customers and ask if everything went okay. These contractors referred to their customers as “sleeping dogs” and they laughed nervously when I suggested that they make a call because previous customers can be your greatest source of new business.
Why be nervous if you did your best?
I think one of the most important things a contractor can do is to call each customer one week, six months and then one year after the work is done. And if you’re not comfortable on the phone, delegate it to someone who is.
As a consumer, wouldn’t you appreciate a call from the pro that did work for you? Wouldn’t it make you feel good about that person? Wouldn’t you want to do business with him or her again? Call and say, “Hello! We’re just calling to make sure everything is working as we promised it would. Are you comfortable? Are you satisfied with our work? Is there anything you’d like us to come back and look at? May we use you as a reference when we talk to your neighbors?”
If you’re proud of your work, you should have no problem at all with going back. Just do it.
Not easy, I know, but this is the single best thing you can do to improve your health and to keep yourself on this side of the lawn for as long as possible. I’m getting weary of going to friends’ funerals. They were all militant smokers, those dead friends. They each knew someone who smoked two packs a day and lived to be 95. And they’re all dead, nonetheless, and I miss them dearly.
Avoid negative people.
Get those unhappy people who need to gripe all the time out of your life. These people are forever looking for an argument and they’ll waste your time and sap your energy if you allow them to. Smile and walk away. You can’t change these people. Don’t try.
Stop being a rooster.
If the rooster oversleeps and doesn’t crow, the sun will probably still rise.
Are you a rooster?
Do you see yourself as irreplaceable and absolutely key to the business? Will it all grind to a halt the day after the funeral? Do you absolutely have to be on every job?
Are you the only one who can make a decision, or put out a fire?
I know it’s wonderful for the ego to think this way, but have you ever seen a truly successful business person (and here I’m talking about someone who finds time for the spouse and the kids) who hasn’t learned how to delegate?
Those who don’t learn to delegate, build little prison cells for themselves, and that’s a lousy way to live. The sun will rise after you’re dead, pal. Learn how to delegate and then spend more time with your family. They’re important.
When I was growing up in this business I had a bunch of old-timers that I would call on for technical and business help. They were all local people and they were wonderful to me. Today, thanks to the Internet, my circle has widened and now includes people who are all over the world. These people have experience that I’ll never have. We meet here on the Wall, and we help each other every day. No one person has all the answers but when we come together we form a critical mass that can solve just about any problem, be it technical or business related.
And that’s why I think one of the most important things you can do is to get online and network with your fellow professionals. Together we’re stronger than any individual. Cast your bread upon cyberspace.
Take your time before answering.
Speaking of the Internet, we’re now living in a world that runs at lighting speed and on instant communication. It is so easy to shoot off a snappy (or downright nasty) reply to someone on an Internet bulletin board or chat room. But even at this speed, you still have the luxury of time – if you’re a mature adult. I urge you to use that time wisely, to think before you hit the Send key. Take a deep breath and give yourself some time. Maybe even take a day or two before answering. There’s enough pressure in this business already. Don’t be mean to others.
Support your wholesaler.
Especially nowadays when they have so much competition. A good wholesaler earns and deserves your business and your loyalty. Keep him healthy and he’ll do the same for you.
Hug your kids.
If you’re lucky enough to have them, hug them often because they have expiration dates. And I know that your business is very important, and that you have to devote lots of time to it to build a future for your family and make money, and that you have to get up at the crack of dawn and stay out late at industry association meetings and you’re doing it for your family and all that. But your kids are only going to be kids for a little while.
And let’s face it; there will always be work. You see it’s those school band concerts and ballgames, those scout meetings and dance recitals that won’t always be here. They’re like smoke in the wind, those times. And they are as perishable as milk.
Sure we have to earn money, but we spend time.
Please spend yours wisely.
Hug your kids. Be there for them.