When driving it's easy to miss signs when you are concentrating on all the hazards of the road that are constantly changing around you. In the construction business, like any other business, the day to day issues, problems, “routine” business can distract you from the big picture which is the goal, the purpose, the mission. Gas up the truck lets take a drive to the intersection of Progress & Disaster. I know where I’m going so I'll drive you just pay attention to what's going on around us.
This issue has been racking my brain like a 90 lb jack hammer.
The object of my frustration: A small plumbing company I have intimate knowledge of and experience with.
The Owner of the business in question is a PHENOMENAL human being, a fantastic people person, a solid tradesmen but a terrible businessman.
A union plumber, life steered him into business, in the early 90's as the union shop he was working for was trying to go non union. Rather than sit on the list at the hall he took the leap of faith and started his own business. Problem was he had no business experience, no business education, as far as I know and he never did any of his homework. He never stopped to take a look at the numbers, his business numbers, expenses, overhead etc.
Needless to say without any of those numbers he never developed an exit strategy (I mean a plan on how to retire). No effort was put into how to address potential issues a small contracting business faces.
Before we move on with the story I will tell you with all certainty; If you are a Tradesmen who started a contracting business YOU ARE NOW A BUSINESSMAN. If you are a Tradesmen thinking about getting your license.... you are thinking about BECOMING A BUSINESSMAN. You may pound nails, lay pipe or pull wire from time to time but your primary function is no longer building, YOUR PRIMARY FUNCTION IS MAKING MONEY. If you aren't okay with that stay “in the field” as an employee, there is ABSOLUTELY NO SHAME IN IT.
Your inability to conduct good business will certainly make it harder on those who do “good business”.
FAST FORWARD: The company now has 20+ years of clients that are trained to expect bad business. Things Like:
- Late Billing
- Under Billing
- NOT BILLING?!!!!
- Below Standard shop & service rates
- Under Estimating of Jobs
- Acceptable Late Payments
The owner has become a slave to his business. He has an abundance of work, this happens when you charge low, do great work and people can rely on you. The problem is at his current rates he can't afford to take on help and still make money. Since he can't take on help he is left to do all the work and has no time to step back and assess the situation and form a plan on how to steer his company to prosperity.
Like one of my favorite general once said: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” General George S. Patton
ENTER THE PRODIGAL SON
A long time employee of the company. Like many 2nd generation tradesmen who work for their families business, the son has been watching, learning and applying, usually at a much higher level than their “unrelated” counterparts. The son sees problems in the business and forms plans to overcome each issue. He may not have perfect plans but he is “violently executing” the plan now. And let me clarify, by “violently executing”, in terms of the plan in the construction business, we are talking about putting the plan into action with unrelenting force NOT the old “we'll break your knee caps if you don't do things our way” sense.
DON'T EXPECT PROGRESS TO BE EASY.
Like breaking any bad habit, IT IS A DAILY STRUGGLE. When conflicts arise, the son fights the same fights, over and over again with different customers. Every one of their several hundred clients has to be brought up to speed, re-trained. It may seem like you are a broken record but you cannot concede any ground while you are fighting your way back. YOU MUST BE UNRELENTING!
SO HOW DID THE SON GET THIS DONE?
FIRST you have to be aware there is a problem. Some signs of business problems might include feeling any of the following:
- Like you're "spinning your wheels"
- Going backwards
- Working too much for too little
- Never stop working yet never get ahead
If you are experiencing any of these you may want to start evaluating your business.
NEXT you must be able to identify the problem(s)
Just work your way backwards like a detective investigating a crime. You know what you are experiencing so what was the cause?
Consider All Options for addressing the problems. Some problems may have multiple causes. They all need to be addressed. You aren't just putting a band aid on this problem, you are fixing it.
Next Form a Plan. The plan you form should address all your causes. If you want the best chance of success choose a plan that you can “violently execute” and by that I mean make sure you are comfortable with it and capable of carrying it out. MAKE SURE YOU KNOW any consequences or side effects of your plan AND THEN HAVE A PLAN for dealing with that. Like we always said in Boy Scouts- BE PREPARED.
FINALLY- You guessed it “VIOLENTLY EXECUTE” that plan. Do it now. Tomorrow never comes.
Before you go hit the war room to formulate your plans ... A Piece of Advice:
WRITE DOWN THE PLAN - It helps for clarity & credibility.
DON'T KEEP THE PLAN A SECRET - Draft up a letter and send out a mailer to all your “Valued Customers” and if you have a website or social media POST the changes there as well. Keep your clients informed. You should be able preemptively solve the majority of the conflicts just by taking this simple non confrontational step. BELIEVE ME, your customers don't want you out of business. If you go out of business they have to find somebody to replace you and there is a chance that somebody is sniffing glue, a thief, or just doesn't provide the high level of quality and service you do.
Progress takes courage. Don't Let Fear Stop You. It's not easy tackling these issues with customers but it is necessary. I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE YOU, If you have not started your business yet, PLEASE get it right from the beginning. It is so much easier than having to fight all these individual battles. If you are having issues attack them now. Like anything in life postponing action only increases the problem. Confrontation sucks but the more you solve these problems the more skilled you will be at handling them and the "easier" it will become, if you can call it that.
Progress & Disaster are two winding roads, traveling in opposite directions, criss-crossing each other infinitely. If you miss the turn at the intersection, to get back onto progress, your next opportunity is right in front of you.
AND DON'T EVER WORRY, BlueCollarBlackBook.com is going to be here to help you through it.