Braker’s Rules for Contractors

#11 #34 #31 #21 #15 #40

Then he said, “I thought all contractors were drunks.”

I was working late one night in a home when the homeowner offered me a beer.  He was very friendly and we had been chatting quite a bit while I was working. But I declined.  Then he offered me some whiskey which I thought was odd and declined it also.  Then he said, “I thought all contractors were drunks!”  He was not what he seemed to be.  Many people are like that.

To drink on a job is not smart at all no matter  how tired you are, how hot it is, or if other people are drinking beer.  Some companies will fire you on the spot if they catch you. This is where rule #11 comes from.

#11 Never accept a beer from a client.

It does your reputation no good if you are found to accept a drink while working.   You may think no one else will ever know.  Brian Tracy taught the truth that everyone knows everything.  People will eventually know you do that and so will all your suppliers and professional contacts.  It could spell disaster for your business in the long run.

#34 Don’t show up with a three day growth on your beard.

One of the painting companies I conversed with on the internet in a trade association had a policy of no one going on a job unshaven.  The owner said, “We have a bathroom at our shop supplied with razors and shaving crème.  If they come to work unshaven, they either shave or go home.”

Many companies, if you do any kind of warranty work, will call the customer after you have been there and ask, “Were they on time, were they courteous, were they dressed well, were they clean shaven and were you comfortable with them in your home?”

Think for a minute.  You knock on the door, and the woman looks through the peep hole with three little ones in tow, and her husband is at work.  She sees a man with a three day growth on his face, holes in his jeans and a dirty tee shirt.  She will not be anxious to let you in.

What looks cool on Friday night when you go out does not inspire confidence on Monday morning.

#31 We only will wait 10 to 15 minutes. 

I called a client on one job, and he said he could meet me.  I got there and waited about five minutes and then called him to “see how far out he was.”  Really I called to see if he had left work yet because sometimes they haven’t.

He said he got tied up but would be there in about 10 minutes.  At 12 minutes, I called again.  (I usually write the time down on a clip board that I carry so I remember what time he said that.)  Then he tells me he is leaving in a few minutes.  What he is really doing is trying to get me to wait till he gets off work.  He said, “Can’t you wait for a bit?”  I said, “No. I have other jobs to do.”

It was a couple of weeks before I called him back. The next time he was prompt.

He never intended to meet me. He wanted to string me along until he got off work. We don’t wait.

Sometimes people will want to meet at 4:00 PM.  You can ask, “Do you want to meet at 4:00 or is that when you get off work?” If they won’t be actually there until 4:30, we decline and wait for another day.

If you wait much longer than 15 minutes, it appears as though you have nothing else to do other than wait on them to be able to make some money.  It gives a very poor image of you and your business.

#21 Only reschedule once.

If you have to reschedule a job, only do it once.  More than one reschedule makes you look flakey besides the fact that many people look down on contractors as being unreliable.  It also gives the appearance that you can’t run a good schedule or a good business. The reputation you want to build is that if you say it, you will do it and on time.  People will pay more for that than great workmanship.

#15 Be on time.

Some people are always late, and they will tell you so.  If you are late, hey, that is how they are and it is very acceptable.

But there is a class of people out there that prize punctuality.  If you are late, they will never call you again.  That is just how they see life.  You are unreliable, and you will not put forth the effort to be on time.

So if you want all the work you can get, be on time and get those “clock watchers,” too!

Having said that, the only other acceptable thing that works is to call or text them, and tell them you will be late.  It is not quite as good, but it is much better that just showing up late.   Some people won’t wait long if you are not on time.  So if it happens – call.

#40 Never go into homes with only young children, especially girls.

This rule came up again this week. The lady told me that if I beat her to the house, her daughter would let me in. I told her I would wait.

It is just good policy. Another time, I was working out of town on a job.  I had called the man and verified the time I would be there. I got to the house and an 8-10 year old girl answered the door.  She said her dad had called and said to let us (I had a helper with me) in, and that her dad would be there shortly.

I told her we would wait in the truck. I told the man who was the local fire chief that we never enter a house with only underage girls there. He said he understood.

Sometimes you have to find out if the young person is a boy or girl and what age they are. Boys are not quite the problem. You could ask if they go to college.  If not, tell them, “It’s nothing personal; it is just against our company policy to go into homes with only young girls there unless they have graduated high school. I need the adult to meet us. Most people will understand.

What I don’t understand is instructing a young girl to let an adult into their home that they have never met.  It seems odd to me but people do it.

 #7 Go get the work.

If you want the work, you have to go get it.  Figure out every possible avenue that could use what you do.  Then call or go by and drop off some cards.

  • Manufacturers
  • Wholesalers
  • Tradesmen
  • Apartment complexes
  • Real estate agents
  • Builders

I found a list of all the builders in our area online in the beginning which was about 400 people.  I entered them all into a data base, so that we could print out envelopes and have them look nice. Then we mailed them all letters.

This was a lot of work, but every time I did that we would pick up two or three builders.  If you do that four times a year, it will pay off after a while.

Spend some time on the phone calling people that could benefit from your business especially if they are out of town. I picked up some accounts on the fourth call.

Always look for a way to pick up more business.  I did a job for a wholesaler years ago.  When I was done, I called him on the phone and visited with him.  I asked him what brands he sold.  He mentioned one that I did not work for and I told him that.  He said that they had just hired a new salesman and gave me the man’s number.  A few weeks later I was in with that brand and have done a number of jobs over the years and also gotten a great many referrals.

Finally, pray and ask God to open doors for you.  He will because he is your Father.  If God is not your Father, then get born again and then pray.  He will be able to be more help to you than you can ever imagine.

A great book to read along these lines written by Jay Abraham is Getting Everything You Can out of All You’ve Got.  He explains how to make a great business with very little to not cost.  It is well worth reading.

Dealing with People

This one does not have a rule as such, but it is interesting.

Three or four times when I was younger, I had people call me and say “It’s 10:00, we had an appointment for 9:00, and I took off work to meet you. Are you coming?”

At first I told them I was sorry and rushed over and did the work. I could not remember making the appointment, but since I talk to a lot of people maybe I did.

After this occurred three or four times over a couple of years, I began to realize I never set that appointment.  So I began to ask them who they talked with to set this appointment.  They usually responded with “your office, the job foreman or the manufacturer.” I tell them that I am the only one to talk to to get service.  I will call you in the next few days, and we will figure out a time.

What probably happened is that they took off from work that morning for whatever reason, and it was convenient for them to have me come that morning.  Rather than asking, they tried to guilt me into doing the job right now. That worked a few times but no longer.

  • Proverbs 14:24 The wise accumulate wisdom; fools get stupider by the day.  (The Message)
  • Proverbs 2:7 He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.

Accumulating rules that govern life are all part of The Prosperous Life.



We Don’t Pick Up Checks!

Braker's Rules for Contractors

Many years ago I was waiting in the outer office of a builder with about 20 other contractors.  It was Friday afternoon about 2:20.  A door opens and the lady says, we are not giving you your checks until after 3:00 so stop asking.

I had picked up checks several times on Friday afternoon.  This day I asked myself, “What are you doing here with these people?”  I did not like the picture it painted of my business nor did I like being treated that way.   I did not like the feelings I had in me being there.  It was demeaning.  I never picked up another check on Fridays again.

When you wait in line as a contractor to pick up checks on Fridays, it gives off the impression that you cannot make it through the weekend without the money.  It says you cannot manage your money well enough to run your business without getting a check on Friday.

Learn to leave enough in your accounts to make it till the middle of the next week when the checks come in.  You can do it.  It is just what you allow in your life and what you get used to.

So from then on we asked to be mailed the checks and never picked them up again.  This is where rule #20 came from.

# 20 We don’t pick up checks!

Then this freed me up to do more jobs on Friday afternoon and increased our bottom line.

# 23 Take care of call backs immediately.

No one is perfect.  If you messed up a job and got a call back to correct it, take care of it immediately especially if it’s for a major account.  Fix it within the first 24 hours or sooner so they know that you can be counted on to take care of problems when they come up.  This is great for your reputation.

Repairing the goof ASAP also makes your mistake leave their mind quickly.  You don’t need the thought of your screw up lingering in their head.

Don’t argue over $25 or $100 especially when you make $1,500 – $5,000 year from that account.  Don’t argue over pennies; you lose dollars so just fix it. It will save you a ton of headaches when you go looking for new accounts.

# 37 Eat that frog.

I listen to Brian Tracy some, and he has a set of CD’s called Eat That Frog.  The idea is to do the worst job or the job you dread doing the most first thing in the morning or the week.

Brian said think of it as a frog you have to eat live today.  If you eat it first thing in the morning, then it is over with.  That is far better than dreading the thought of eating it all day long and then finally eating it at 5:00 PM.  Do it first thing in the morning and it is over with.  The rest of the day is free.  Very nice!

Sometimes I do the call backs first.  I hate those.  Or I call the jobs with cranky people first.   There can be any number of reasons you dread doing certain jobs, but no matter, do them first thing and it greatly reduces your stress for the day.

If that idea works for you buy the set of CD’s from Brian Tracy as a way of saying thank you. They are interesting and fun to listen to as you drive around.

# 27 Don’t stay on hold for too long.  

Staying on hold too long is like you are begging, like you have nothing better to do while they take care of their business.

  • If they called you, let them all back.
  • If you called them, wait a couple of hours then call back.

Apologize and say you could not wait but had to go — pressing issues.

Like it or not life is a lot about impressions.  If you stay on hold long, it gives the impression that you are not busy. I would rather leave the impression I am very busy, thus, very good at what I do, even If I have nothing else to do.  Think about it.

# 28 Use the 80/20 rule.  

When I was young, I did this with my grass mowing accounts.  At the beginning of each year I culled the ones that only wanted the grass cut every other week so that it was tall and very time consuming to do   with no extra money. Or the ones that did not want to pay more because their yard was too large for the price they were paying.

You can use this rule for any wholesalers, other contractors or manufacturers that you work for.  Most people are great but some need to just be gotten rid of.

This 80/20 rule is old, and the principle is found in many different areas of life.  The following link can help you to understand some of how it works:

  • 20% of your customers give you 80 of your grief, when the time is right, cull them.
  • 20% of your customers give you 80 percent of your income. They go to the top of the list for priority when you make out your schedule.

Rules guard our lives – our minds.  They help guard, most importantly, our minds from feeling frustrated, defeated, used, belittled.  This is important because the more you have these feelings, you are likely to see yourself as not worth much.

Rules also help guard our integrity in the minds of others.  They will begin to realize that you run a business and are not just someone that needs to buy groceries for their family.

Many people have a very poor attitude toward contractors.  Looking at some of the contractors out there, that is understandable.  So it takes a little work on your part to set yourself apart from the other contractors in general and to set yourself apart from those in your field.  Self-imposed rules of conduct can help you accomplish that very quickly.

  • Proverbs 14:24 The wise accumulate wisdom; fools get stupider by the day.  (The Message)
  • Proverbs 2:7 He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.

Accumulating rules that govern life are all part of The Prosperous Life.



Answer a Question With a Question

More Braker's Rules for Contractors

When could you start the job?  I answered, “Next week.” Then there was usually a pause and the person would say, “Oh, we won’t be ready for about a month.  I thought all the good contractors were booked up for several weeks.  Are you not busy?”

This is where Rule #1 came from.

# 1 Answer a question with a question.

I learned to use this principle many years ago after being asked the above question. I hated that.  It is so demeaning and condescending. I finally decided to ask this question in return, “When will you be ready?”  That solved that problem.  Sometimes they would totally forget the question they had asked and start talking about the job, their work or whatever and never asked me again.  I could just say, “Well, call me a week or so ahead of time.”  Works like a champ every time.  I taught my kids to do this, and then they tried it on me.  I said, “Hey, I taught you that.  Just answer straight up!”

Learn to ask questions or in other words get more information before answering.  It helps save your sanity and makes you look like an expert.  It feels much better, too.

These rules came from situations that I ran into over the last 40 years of contracting.  They were the way I worked out to be as comfortable as possible in uncomfortable situations.  They have kept me out of trouble and guarded me against loss many times.

Good habits keep you safe and defend you as you will see as we go through more of these rules.

Remember, these rules don’t apply all the time.  But if you make a habit of keeping them, you will see their wisdom over time.

Some particular jobs may require a slight alteration of some of these.  But in talking to other contractors through the years, most have agreed they keep these same rules.  There is a reason for different trades and professions coming to the same or similar conclusions.

Rules keep you, your business and your money safe.  They help to establish your integrity, and they result in an internal confidence.  You know what to do or say.

# 2 Be bold.

Stand up for yourself.  Bold but not arrogant.  No one else will stand up for you.  In other words have a backbone.  People will have more respect for you, and in the long run it will benefit your business because it gives off an air of confidence.  Confident but not prideful.  People would much rather hire or contract with a confident person than one that is unsure of him or herself.

# 3 Never sit in the driveway.

I remember a few times I was done with a job, packed up and then relaxed in my truck for a few minutes before leaving — filling out paperwork or making phone calls.  Then at times I would hear a tap on my window and here was the client with a spot they found that they wanted me to look at.  I would go with them back into the job I just left for maybe a couple of hours.

Most of the time the items were very small.  So small in fact that if I was not there they would have never called me.  Some people told me that if I had left they would not have bothered to call.  I learned: don’t sit in the driveway.  Others I have talked to have learned that same thing. We are not trying to do shoddy work or get away with something, but some things are so insignificant it is almost laughable, but may take a couple of hours to fix if it is even possible. Make your calls from a gas station.

# 4 Leave the key in the lock.

Many houses have a lockbox on the front door especially on construction sites.  After you take the key from the lockbox and unlock the door, leave it in the door. Don’t put it in your pocket. I have had to drive 30 minutes back to a job because I put the key in my pocket after I unlocked the door. I forgot and took the key with me. Usually, this happens because the house was locked when I got there, but before I was done, others showed up to work. You would not lock a door with people in the house so if the key is in your pocket, you just forget and leave.  Now you have to go back.  Just leave the key in the door.  This solves that problem.  If no one is there when you leave, lock the house and put the key back.  This makes life simpler.

We also follow these rules for locking houses:

  •  If the house is open when we get there between 8-5, we leave it open when we are finished.
  •  If the house is locked when we get there, we lock it back when we leave.
  •  If the house is open when we get there but it is about 5:00 when we leave, we lock it up.
  •  Sometimes I will call the builder if I am unsure what he wants done.

Usually these lock rules work well.  But you will get an occasional call of irritation.  If they want it done differently, just say, “No problem,” and do what they ask.

# 16 Settle the question of payment up front.

Most contractors are afraid to talk about money.  You just have to get over it.  Before you even start the job settle the question of payment. Who is paying for the job?  I ask this over the phone many times.  If they say another person is paying, I ask for their phone number and verify.  We try to verify everything.  I have run into many situations where all the parties involved said they were not paying.  I told each person they needed to talk to each other and have the one that is paying call me back.

If you settle this up front, you will have fewer problems.  But if you wait till afterwards, they may all say, “Thanks,” but leave you holding an empty sack. In another blog we will talk more about money.

# 17 Always return your phone calls or reply to text messages promptly.

I will never forget the first client I picked up as a contractor.  I asked her what happened to her other contractor.  She said I can never get him to call me back or answer the phone.  Many times I have been told the person called me because they could not get a hold of their regular contractor — sometimes for a couple of months.   You can pick up a lot of business over time by just returning calls.  People like doing business with those they can get in contact with quickly.  Also, this is good marketing.  On my business card for years I had the phrase: We return calls promptly.”

  • Proverbs 14:24 The wise accumulate wisdom; fools get stupider by the day.  (The Message)
  • Proverbs 2:7 He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.

Accumulating rules that govern life are all part of The Prosperous Life.