Answer a Question with a Question!

Chapter 13

 

One hour per day of study in your chosen field is all it takes. One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years, you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do. Earl Nightingale

Chapter 13

Answer a Question with a Question

When could you start the job?” I answered, “Next week.” Then there was usually a pause and the person would say, “Oh! (pause) 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 #24 came from.

Rule #24 – 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.

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.

Rule #25 – Stand up for Yourself.

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.

Rule #26 – 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.

Rule #27 – 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 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.

As a side note: unless instructed to by the builder, NEVER give the house key to the buyer.  Some people will move into the house before the closing date and then never close.  I have been on several jobs where this occurred.  In some cases, they lived there for months and had to be evicted. People can be very friendly and very deceitful.  If the buyer insists you give them the keys, just tell them you are not authorized to give out keys to anyone and that they need to speak to the builder. If they tell you the builder said to give them the keys, call and verify.

Rule #28 – Establish Trust.

Establishing trust with your clients takes time.  This is one reason it is important to dress appropriately for the first contact.  I carry an ironed shirt on a hanger in the back seat, and on some jobs I put that on before I go to the door.  First impressions are important.

You want to build a reputation for being honest and truthful.  That kind of reputation will take you much further down the road and open up many doors that would otherwise be closed to you.

I had a foreman years ago that requested some work be done in his home.  I asked how he wanted this to be billed, and he said to charge it to a house that was under construction. These situations are always a mess.  I finally called his supervisor and asked him if this was company policy.  He said, “NO!” I took the risk that the foreman might convince the building company to fire me in retaliation.  I would rather be fired and lose that large account than gain a reputation of being dishonest.  What would have happened if the main builder saw the bill, knew I had not worked on that house and when I told them about the foreman’s request, the foreman denied everything?  Then I would appear to be fleecing the builder.  People talk!!

A reputation of dishonesty would be very hard to overcome if it ever could be.  At times I have pointed out to people how I saved them money or that I was refunding money they gave me for parts.  They would have never known that I did not use them.  Sometimes I have to tell them I am just being honest by saying, “If it was mine, I would not spend the money on the repair. I would just replace the unit.” Since I do not sell new units, I am just giving them my best advice.

Once you start down the road of lying, where do you stop?  Once people know you lie, how can they ever trust you to tell the truth in the future?  If you “fudge” a bill and send it to the manufacturer when the builder knows it really is his fault, where do you stop?  You get a reputation for not being honest.

It may make you some friends in the short run, but in the long run it will destroy your business. People talk, and they will learn that they cannot trust what you say if they need an honest evaluation. You are a liar.  Just be honest.

Rule #29 – Never Take Instructions from Anyone Other Than Who is Paying.

As I write this, I remember that about a week ago a general contractor reinstructed me on what he wanted me to repair.  I looked him in the eye and politely said, “You are not the one paying me.”  He might be right in his instructions, but I will call and verify. I call and verify everything.  I had two last week where the builder instructed me to do one repair, but the homeowner said there were three. I called and verified and was told to go ahead.  But I have been told in the past, “No, we are only paying for one. The other is on them.” So that is what you tell the homeowner.  If the homeowner wants to argue, you just tell them they need to call and talk to the builder.

You need to call and verify on any instructions you receive from anyone that is not paying for the job.

I have had many builders thank me for verifying.

I looked at one person and said, “I don’t even know who you are!!”  Then I went and talked to the builder.  That time it turns out that it was a real estate agent, and they had no idea what they were talking about.  Always verify.

Rule #30 – Ask Who Is Paying for the Job, Part 1.

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 that person’s 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. We will talk more about money in some of the later rules.

Rule #31 – 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 25:13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the soul of his masters.

(English Standard Version)

Hoping To Get Paid!

Chapter 12

Successful people are simply those with successful habits.   

Brian Tracy

Chapter 12

Hoping To Get Paid!

 

If you take a job “hoping” to get paid, several things happen.

Just like a dog can smell fear, people can “smell” that attitude in the contractor.

It communicates that:

  1. You don’t have much confidence in yourself or your ability.
  2. You are not a real business.
  3. You come off as a low status contractor or business.
  4. When you give away your expertise and/or your knowledge for free, that is the poor contractor mentality. It is also why so many contractors are poor. They don’t really think much of themselves or the service they provide.

Rule #23 – We Never Do A Job Hoping To Get Paid.

But that is not the only problem. The real problem is what happens in your mind.

Think about how you feel each time you take a job or look at a job “hoping” to get paid. At the least, it is demeaning. You feel terrible on the inside and at the mercy of the person.

I sent a text to another contractor today that stated: “They are hiring you or buying your services to see if the unit can be saved. Whether the repair of the unit looks acceptable or not, they have still hired you. Don’t do anything for free hoping to make a little money. That damages your psyche.”

Some people, knowing how you feel, or how you see yourself, will use that against you. “Well, that is not quite what I expected. I was expecting something a little better.”  Now you feel guilty for asking to be paid. Many times things cannot be made perfect.

There are much better ways of dealing with these situations.

You have to have enough respect for yourself to believe and know that you deserve to be paid. That attitude has quite a different “smell,” and most people can tell that one, too.

I had a builder call today and ask me to look at a certain problem he had and let him know if it could be repaired. I told him he might as well let me repair it while I was there because the cost was the same for a trip charge to “look” as it was to repair. Once it was repaired, then he could decide if he wanted to keep the unit or replace it. He agreed to that idea. I will get paid even if he replaces the unit.

By handling the situation this way, he knows he will have to pay for my services either way. It feels much better for me also. It is fair to him and also to me and my family. Rather than doing this inspection for free, I could be doing another job that paid.

People should expect to pay you. They are paying for your expertise and knowledge. Folks should expect to pay for that. We have many calls where they just want us to “come take a look” at their problem, whatever it is. We are upfront and tell them it is $XX.XX for us to “look”. Knowing that we have a service fee for looking at a problem, many are glad to pay it.

So I recommend they send us pictures, and we can go from there. Since we do charge for inspections, we try to solve problems over the phone from pictures and give those recommendations for free.  Once I explain why we need the pictures, that we are trying to save them the cost of an inspection, they are usually grateful.

If people in your area learn you are willing to come “take a look” for free, you will not have time to make a living.  They will bury you in calls.

When you tell clients up front what you charge for your services, generally, they are willing to pay that — especially if you come recommended.

If you don’t bring up the cost of an inspection until you tell them it cannot be repaired, they many times will balk at paying you. They will say you did not do anything.

It is not fair or honest for people to expect you to give away your recommendations for free if you have to visit their job site. It is also not fair or honest to have you attempt to do a job they know may not be perfect and then expect not to pay. With inspections, sometimes that is unavoidable especially if it is for a large client. But even with them, you can be frank and let them know what your fee is for inspections, recommendations or advice.  Remember, they are hiring you to attempt to repair or to recommend.

It is also not fair to your family to give away for free what has taken you years to acquire in knowledge and expertise. Your family deserves better than “free.”

You will also be able to hold your head a little higher, people will have much more respect for you and they will have more respect for your recommendations and attempts to make a bad unit acceptable. This feels far better than “hoping” to get paid.  It is a completely different attitude.

This is not done with any arrogance or haughty pride but just with an expectation of being paid for your service whether it is an inspection or an actual job.

These things are worth thinking about both for your psyche and your pocketbook.

Proverbs 12:17 A good man is known by his truthfulness…. (The Living Bible)

Charge Like A Business

Chapter 11

You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.

Jim Rohn

Chapter 11

Rule #22 – Charge Like a Business  

The lady says, “You don’t charge for that do you? You just got here.” Sometimes our job only takes one to five minutes.

The builder standing there watching says, “That did not take long.  Are you giving me a discounted price?”

Another lady says, “Wow! That was simple. I’ll bet you don’t charge the builder much do you?”

“It is a trip charge ma’am.”

“I am going to turn you in to the builder!”

A new contractor told me one time that they only charge $15-20/hour.

One thing all these people have in common is that they are thinking in terms of paying a labor charge.

Think about it.  There is a great difference between paying a business for coming to your home and paying a day laborer you have hired to work.  One is a business – and one is a laborer.

If an electrician comes to your house and all he has to do is change out a light bulb to fix the problem, you still pay his company’s minimum trip charge because he represents and works for a business.

Most businesses should have a minimum trip charge for work, inspections on site, or giving advice on site. For example, in contracting these trip charges may run from $95.00 to $150.00. The business charges the trip charge, and they pay the electrician or plumber by the hour for their labor, $15-25.00 per hour.

The expenses to run a business are much greater than the expenses of showing up to work as a laborer.

I have listed here some of the expenses a business has to pay for overhead.

Expenses for a business:

  • Workman’s Comp Insurance
  • Contractor’s Liability Insurance
  • Local Licenses
  • Truck
  • Truck Insurance
  • Fuel
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Fax Machine/Printer/Copier
  • Land Line for Phone
  • Cell Phone
  • Computer
  • Bookkeeping Software
  • Other Types of Software
  • Internet Access
  • Office Space
  • Office Equipment
  • Office Supplies
  • Tools and Equipment
  • Supplies
  • Website
  • Website Design and Management
  • Drive time to the job

Expenses for laborer:

  • Clothes
  • Shoes

So if you are just beginning the business of contracting and you have been a laborer for years, you have to change how you think. It may be a shock to your mind to now charge like a business instead of being paid for labor, but you can do it.  Many other people have made the jump.

Since you are a business and not just a worker or laborer, you may need to dress like you own a business. Think like a business man or woman, and see yourself as one who owns a business.

You cannot charge $15-20 per hour, pay the list of expenses itemized above, then hand your spouse the change and expect them to pay all your personal household expenses.  You will go broke.

If you are going to contract business, you have to charge like a business!

 

Proverbs 13:11 Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears;

wealth from hard work grows over time.  New Living Translation

 

Successful people are simply those with successful habits.   Brian Tracy

How to Make Yourself Heard

Chapter 10

SONY DSC

Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.  Vince Lombardi

Chapter 10

How to Make Yourself Heard

Rule #21 – Learn Good Marketing Skills

When I first went into business for myself, my first client said, “I already have a service provider, but they won’t answer the phone, and they won’t call me back.” So that became my first rule: Always call them back; always be available. One thing I’ve learned, people will accept a lower standard of quality if you are easily available. Not returning phone calls is very frustrating to people no matter how great your quality of services or products are. If they are in a hurry, if they need it done right now, and they know they can get a hold of you, they will call you even if your quality is not as good as the other guys. This is not an excuse for poor quality, but just to show how important good marketing is. Being available by phone is part of marketing.

You don’t have to be the best in your field to be successful, but you do have to know about marketing. Marketing can include many different things:

  • the way you dress,
  • phone call etiquette,
  • business cards,
  • websites, etc.,
  • AND knowing who holds the key in your market.

One of my accounts told me that they used our quick responses to phone calls and service calls to sell their products because the other service provider at times took months to get the jobs done. So we use our fast response to phone calls as part of our marketing. We put on our business cards, “We return telephone calls promptly.” That wholesaler used us to market their products.

Marketing does not have to cost a lot of money. I like the principles of Guerilla Marketing which is low cost or no cost marketing. It is very effective even though it might be free. One of the best authors on the subject is J. Abrams. He is great at Guerilla Marketing and has written several books on the topic. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got: 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition is one of his well-known books.

Sometimes all it takes is one or two good ideas to make a huge difference in your marketing.

I remember reading in one of Robert Kyosaki’s books a conversation he had with a young female writer. He said, “I have read your work and you are very good.” “Yes,” she responded, “but I don’t sell very many books.” Robert said, “You need to look into marketing.” She responded, “I am a college grad, and that would be ‘sales’!” (Sales are a little beneath the class of a college grad). Robert told her he was not nearly as good a writer as she was, but he sold a lot of books. He said that marketing is the key. You don’t have to be the best at your craft, but if you can market well, that will put you right up at the top.

If you have days or a week or two when you are not busy (as we all do if we run a small business or are self-employed), one thing to know is that you will get busy again. So, in those off times, that’s when you can concentrate on marketing. You can:

  • Work on your website or websites.
  • Work on your twitter accounts.
  • Clean out your truck.
  • Organize your materials.
  • Post to Facebook.
  • Post to Instagram.
  • Work on expediting your processes.
  • Talk to your mentors.
  • Talk to the key pins in your marketing process such as wholesalers, manufacturers, or large clients.
  • Read books on marketing.
  • Strategize.

In order for people to beat a path to your door, they have to know about you. Every field requires a different marketing strategy. Marketing can also include branding, a logo, and/or twitter accounts. If you are marketing a book, Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World is helpful.

Another book is Jeff Walker’s book:  Launch: An Internet Millionaire’s Secret Formula To Sell Almost Anything Online, Build A Business You Love, And Live The Life Of Your Dreams.

Probably the biggest key is to pray a lot. God’s hand is with you because you are one of His children, and you should expect to see His hand at work to open doors for your business and to protect your business.

The Bible says that wisdom is worth more than rubies. Marketing is a type of wisdom. Once you learn the importance of it and the rudiments of how to do it, it can make you a lot of money. Without marketing, you could have the greatest service, product or book in the world and be very short on sales.

I have asked many people what they do to market their business. Many times their response is, “My work speaks for itself, and I get most of my work or business through referrals.” I believe this is a lazy man’s way of saying he is content with what he gets even if it is not much.

Marketing works. If all that was required was word of mouth, why do so many businesses advertise?

Walmart, Kohl’s, Stihl, movies, drug companies, Ford Motor Company, and the list goes on forever. It is because marketing works.

Many people are very good at what they do, like the female writer above, but they never really reach their full monetary potential because of a lack of understanding of marketing. We want to not only be good in our craft, business or books but good at marketing, too. That gives us a full package for a prosperous venture in our living The Prosperous Life.

Proverbs 21:5 Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity,

but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.  New Living Translation

Be Bold!

Chapter 9

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.  Brian Tracy

Chapter 9

Be Bold!

Rule #20 – Be Bold When It Comes to Money

Fear stops us from living a truly prosperous life at times. I have been in contracting for about 40 years, and in that time I have seen many people lose money and go broke because of the fear of asking to get paid.  Boldness is far better and more profitable than fear.

You don’t have to be rude. Just ask. Or in some cases let them know that you need to be paid when the job is complete. We always do this on commercial jobs.

As we conclude the phone conversation about time and pricing, I just tell them we need to get paid the day we are done. They may say they don’t carry checks. We ask if they have a credit card and then ask if that will work for their boss. Also we add $3.50/hundred to do a card because that is what we are charged. Most of the time, they agree.

That is so much simpler than trying to collect from a company that is out of state. If you have ever tried that kind of collecting, you will know what I mean. Generally, it takes three months to get money that way. We just don’t do jobs like that anymore.

With smaller, local contractors we usually ask them to meet us and pay when we are done when it is the first time we have worked for them. Usually, people understand the situation and do just what you ask. If that goes well, we will bill them in the future.

If they object, then that raises a red flag. They may be ones that you would have a hard time collecting from anyway. Tell them you really need to get paid while you are there because they are a new account.

If you stick to your guns, usually they will do that.

This type of dealing with people about money also has the advantage of showing that:

  1. You have some integrity.
  2. You are not afraid of losing a job.
  3. You respect yourself enough to conduct your business properly.
  4. Thus, most people will have more respect for you and treat you better.

I worked with a young man years ago that told me the builder owed him for all the materials and labor for five houses. WOW! I asked him why he would do the next one if he was not getting paid.

Fear was the answer:

  1. Afraid the builder would not pay for any of it if he asked for the money.
  2. Afraid he would not get the next job if he insisted on getting paid.
  3. Afraid of the confrontation.

He eventually went broke and got a job.

Fear… some call it sand in the machinery of life.

(More on this in Rule #45)

Boldness without being rude is one of the well-worn paths to The Prosperous Life.

Proverbs 28:1 ….   But the righteous are bold as a lion (KJV)