Nowhere is personal responsibility more important than if you own your own business.

Today is a different world from what our parents grew up in. When I was a kid, if you made bad grades or misbehaved in school, you were a bad kid. Now you have Attention Deficit Disorder or are a victim of bad parenting.

Understand me, I think many people have issues and medical science has come a long way in determining personality and behavioral factors. The issue is finding a good person. If you think you have personal issues that are large enough to be in the way of you running the business, call Dan Kohler at 804.230.1123, a business coach and owner of ProGro. Dan is a therapist who can help you sort issues out.

I am just a business consultant who specializes in working for contractors. I cannot help with sorting out and rethinking things differently. I am not trained to diagnose ADD or figure out that your mama used to give your brother dessert but not you, so now you do not trust people.

What I am good at is being a business consultant. I am also a big advocate of personal responsibility — particularly for business people who own their own business. We are the bosses who dictate policy, make decisions and create the culture of our businesses. Nowhere is personal responsibility more important than if you own your own business. I am dedicating this article to owners and accountability.

Who holds you accountable?

Good question isn’t it? People who own businesses have strong personalities. Some people start their own business by chance, others start it because it was a life long dream, and still others because they could not work for another person. Regardless, you really need to build a system where you are held accountable. I think that is one of the greatest benefits of belonging to our PROSULT™ networking groups. The group of peers help hold you responsible. Ironically, it also helps hold me responsible because you come back each and every year. Unlike seminars or singular consulting projects, the relationships are ongoing.

In addition to a networking group, here are some ideas you can use to hold yourself responsible:

1. Get outside local advice. Consider paying another successful contractor from a different trade to meet with you once a quarter to review your company and plan. Many will do this without pay, but I really want the person to take some time to look at your statements and review your plan of action. You need to take time to write down your thoughts, direction and goals. Show them to this peer and then in three months, review them again. Get ownership from this person but openly tell them you are using them to hold you accountable. Another option is to hire a local consultant, but this can be tricky. It can be hard to find people who specifically know enough about the contracting business.

You are looking for general business advice, not a rebirth of your business; someone to guide you, not a mutual admiration society or yes person. Some of the things they say to you should be uncomfortable. Telling you what you want to hear has no value and just further makes you more of a “king” contractor.

2. Turn to family members, friends, ministers and other good people who know you. Make sure you use the right person for the right advice. My own spouse works in my business and makes valuable contributions, but they are limited to her area of expertise. A friend tends to side with you, and if you are not careful, you will perpetuate your own misconceptions and irrational thinking. This does not mean that these people should not advise you. However, this advice should be limited to their area of expertise. Issues of character, your own personal behavior, etc., can benefit greatly from this advice.

3. Ask your employees. Employees can be great sources of information but again, you have to realize they are employees. Linda, my office manager is invaluable. She has worked with me for 17 years. I am lost without her and appreciate her input. She knows me well, but at the same time her opinions can be biased. It is also not her name on the door and not her responsibility to make tough decisions and set direction for the company. It is my responsibility to make sure the company is profitable and goes in the right direction. It is also my responsibility to make sure she has a good place to work and a good job.

Employees need information, but you must decide how much to give and what that information entails. I am not a big believer in open-book management. I do believe in letting the company know where you are going. If you do not tell employees, they tend to make up their own things. One of my clients had a bad year. In the past, the company had given bonuses. This year little money was handed out. The owner decided to invest by buying a new crane. He thought it would be good for the business and allow the company to be more competitive during the coming year. He thought it was none of the employees’ business to know and it would help them stay employed. They thought he bought a crane with their bonus money. Productivity plummeted. Setting some goals and making them public with employees is a good way to hold you accountable and also avoid confusion.

4. Stop blaming others. If I hear one more owner or manager bitch about employees, I am going to puke. The same goes for contractors whining about competition that is cheap. I am overweight but you know why? Because I eat too much. It is not because my wife cooks wrong, the food industry makes junk food, or my mama force-fed me when I was little. It is my fault and only I can fix it.

5. Develop a personnel plan. For years we have been predicting a shortage of employees. Few contractors started a training program and made their company a better place to work. Ozzie and Harriet are gone. It is not 1955. You must develop a personnel plan for today, not 40 years ago. It is a social issue and is demographic driven. If you are not willing to change, then running a contracting business can be a pretty miserable experience.

I honestly believe one of the issues that forces contractors to have personnel problems is the lack of profitability. If you are not making money, how can you afford to pay and attract good people? One of the things I have noticed is that once contractors learn their numbers, generate a profit and begin to have a better cash flow, their personnel issues lessen. The employee situation is what it is, so quit bitching and change. If not, work by yourself but don’t complain when you are 55 and want to get off the tools.

6. Do something about cheap competition. I started doing this in 1976. There were cheap contractors then and there are cheap contractors now. It requires little capital for someone to be a contractor and this problem is not going to go away.

Stop complaining and go out and do something about it. Ironically, every consumer poll complains about the difficulty of consumers finding good contractors. Learn to communicate your value more clearly and find people who want to pay what you are worth.

7. Figure it out. I cannot over emphasize the need to sit down, make a budget and figure it all out. Each and everyday, I meet contractors who do not understand their costs and lose and make money on the same ratios and types of jobs. It really is not that hard. We have cassettes that can help with this but it really is just a matter of digging into things and sticking with it until you understand it.

Add up all of your overhead items (anything not chargeable to the job). Next come up with a way to recover this overhead. We advocate an hourly charge but you really need to just figure it out. How much per week, per day, per hour does it take to run your business?

So what is my 2002 message?

First, do not take my message to mean that I am arrogant or that I know it all. I make mistakes each and every day of my life. In fact, with my whole heart I believe being a good student is an important factor in happiness and success. I learn each and every day. I just want to see you happy and successful. Please take time to reflect on what you are doing right or wrong. Stop looking for the miracle cure and change what needs to be changed in your business. That change starts with changing you. Find the time you need to make those changes. Look in the mirror tomorrow and accept responsibility for running your company. Be willing to change, accept your fate and don’t blame someone else. I believe in you and know you can do this. Just do it.

Life is short. Accept it, change it, or quit. We owe it to ourselves to be happy, spend time with our family and friends and run businesses that provide for our own and our employees’ livelihood.