Roofing is a tough business. If it rains, you can’t work; if it doesn’t rain, you don’t need to work. Who can you reach out to? What advice do you heed? What advice should you avoid? Owning a business can be a lonely proposition. Most business owners are somewhat isolated. They work long hours, and it can be hard to find time for friends. Family and friends also may not understand what it is like to employ people, deal with customers and fully understand the stress of day-to-day business pressures.
Confide carefully with employees and managers. You spend much of your time with employees and can find yourself bonding with them on a regular basis. This may not always be the best strategy. Don’t get me wrong - I am not asking you to live in isolation and not be friendly. Just make sure your conversations are appropriate. Your employees, and even your managers, really do not understand what it is like to own a business. If they did, they would be your competitors, not your employees. Besides, you are also the boss, so getting a nod of agreement is likely to happen. Employee listening skills can be a little like communicating with our children. When you tell your children they will get an ice cream if they are good, something may get lost in the interpretation. They tend to hear about the ice cream reward but miss the part about being good; and, if they are good, they tend to develop their own standard of what good means.
Employees are looking for leadership and direction, not collaboration. Many owners also make the mistake of not doing a good job of managing their managers. Owners can be so happy to have someone on their side they tend to think of them as owner-type peers rather than employee-operational peers. When working with managers, never make a vague promise regarding promotions, ownership or other career moves. Instead, develop a clear skill path and communicate with them regularly regarding performance.
Suppliers and other contractors can also be a source of information but caution should be taken. Sales reps can offer industry data but be careful of unsubstantiated broad statements. When possible, ask for specific facts. For example, if a rep claims the market is down and no one is buying, ask for verification. Of his 50 accounts, how many are specifically down and how many are specifically up? Folks love to make broad claims with few facts to back them up.
Regarding other contractors: be careful whose advice you follow, and always run such advice through a filter of “will it work for me?” Large contractors may have a very different personality and company than you do. Smaller or midsize contractors may or may not be as successful as they sound. Numerous contractors have joined our networking groups who looked, smelled and sounded successful, but their businesses really were not very profitable. Listen, be respectful, but ask yourself, “Will I really do this, and if I did, would it work for me?” Some of the most valuable information you can obtain from another contractor relates to what they charge, how they market, etc. Unfortunately, this information is not normally shared for fear of it falling into the competition’s hands. This is why we only allow one contractor per geographic area in our networking group, and the benchmarking of numbers is mandatory. We want an open and factual sharing of resources.
Plenty of SourcesProfessional advice can come from many different sources. An insurance agent, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or consultant can be a great ally. Try to seek professionals who are the appropriate size and service for your business. Remember, all they have to sell is time. Have a clear understanding of how they are paid and their fees. You will probably also find that buying from a firm that is too large to match your needs or unfamiliar with contracting will be a mistake. Remember, you are paying for what the person knows as well as what he or she does for you. You may ask your regular lawyer a labor-related question, and your lawyer may appear less expensive than a $300-an-hour labor attorney. However, if the labor attorney knows the answer and your regular attorney has to research the answer, your lawyer is still going to be more expensive.
Many professionals do not make money just from the advice they give, but rather are selling a product or use talking with you as a way of screening or staying in touch with the industry. For example, an insurance agent is paid through commissions, but a good insurance agent needs to be retained for his or her expertise, not the ability to sell you something. I rarely bill contractors for phone time as it only takes me a minute to answer a question, and it is how I qualify folks to see if they would fit into our networking groups. If you have a business question, call me at 804-267-1688; I would be glad to talk with you.
Get involved with other local business owners. You will find this a great way to deal with your isolation. Not only will such involvement be good for you emotionally, it will also allow you to network and grow your brand name. Rotary, Lions, independent business groups and the local Chamber of Commerce all represent an opportunity. However, take time to check the association and make sure it is right for you. Different chapters in neighboring towns can have a totally different membership. Having a life outside of work will also prepare you for retirement and a life after work. You will find that many of the business owners have the same problems that you do.