Aesop was writing about business in the 21st century in the 6th century B.C. Wonder if he knew? His fable about the tortoise and the hare has just been played out between a pair of banking giants. And the tortoise won again.
Wells Fargo’s acquisition of Wachovia is a classic case of the slow, steady, methodical way of doing business winning out over that most would consider faster and sexier, but in the end much riskier. Risk is what the roof contracting business is all about, so where is the lesson?
Risk can take many forms for a roofing contractor. The nature of the work itself is risky. Working in any of the construction trades is hazardous, and roofing is about as hazardous as it comes. The risk of a fall is just the beginning of the day in the roofing trade, and it never goes away completely. Roofing contractors routinely work with hazardous chemicals and sometimes with hazardous waste. One of the biggest risks of all is simply being a small business. Roofing contractors routinely risk capital while building a workforce and signing contracts that obligate the contractor for years. On some roofing projects the contractor has obligations that can span generations.
All this risk and it is all for nothing if the roofing contractor cannot attract and win paying contracts. When times get tough, and available work gets lean, the tendency is to veer from core principals and take chances that might otherwise not even be considered. So here is the lesson: DON’T.
Do not stray from your business strategy. This may be the time to try something new, but do it within the framework of your overall business plan. Do not jump at the first thing that looks like a great opportunity. If you are going to shift your business to do something completely different, you must have a solid plan and a way to measure the outcome. “Do not stray from your business strategy” is easier to say than to do when times are tough.
Do not stray from your core business principles. Carefully choosing companies, institutions and individuals as business partners (clients or customers) is something that conservative roofing contractors practice every day. When times get tough it is easy to lower your standards as you struggle for every bit of business you can get. What good is a board full of work if you will have to fight to get paid on time - or worse, if you don’t get paid at all?
Look at it this way: In good times, taking a bad job is harsh enough, but you can blend it in with the good and come out OK. In tough times, it is going to really hurt you, and one particularly bad project could even bring you down.
Do not forget what made you a successful roofing contractor in the first place. When you began you probably did not have anywhere near as nice a facility, as varied and talented a staff, or the long and loyal customer list. Most roofing contractors reading this column started their enterprises from scratch.
So here is the simple lesson for roofing contractors: Remember where you came from, practice the same routines that built your business and I am confident that you will emerge from tough times not only still in business, but in a business stronger from the experience.
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