Monroe PorterThere is a famous story about two people walking along a road in Africa. Several hundred yards ahead, a lion pops out of the bush and starts towards them. One of the hikers bends over and carefully tightens his walking shoes. The other hiker says, “What are you doing? You’ll never outrun that lion.” The other hiker replies, “I don’t have to outrun the lion — all I have to do is outrun you.”

Business is much like that. We worry about the economy, what is going on in politics, the global banking melt down and many other things we have very little control over. The simple truth is that your business world is made up of local competitors and the local world you operate in. The following actions can help control your own destiny.

• Quit whining. Stop blaming the government, competition and other factors for your business failure. You and only you are the cause of you demise. Man up (or woman up) and control what you can control and quit complaining about everything else.

• Go to work 30 minutes to 1 hour earlier. I am not much of a morning person but over time I have forced myself to become one. Giving up an hour in the morning allows you to go home in time to see your family and have a life after work. Not only that, you are the freshest in the morning and you need that extra hour to finalize proposals and do other details.

• Need more sales but don’t think you are a salesperson. Write a note for each appointment prior to getting there confirming your appointment. Write a thank-you note afterward. Giving estimates is the time-consuming exercise. Two minutes for a note on each side of the customer contact is cheap. That extra effort will win you a few more jobs.

• If you’re not profitable, quit spending money until you are. The emotional high and hope of profit from your purchase can stimulate you like an alcoholic looking for that next drink. Over time, the lows become worse and worse because you are not dealing with the real issue.

• Hire someone to set up QuickBooks or some other accounting package for you. Many contractors don’t like bookkeeping and office work. Neither do I, but with the simplicity of today’s technology, there is no excuse for not doing it. Running these programs is easy; setting them up is complicated. If need be, work an extra weekend in the field and give that money to someone else to set it up for you.

• Do more things personally to bring value to your business and focus on activities that are more valuable. Keep a time card on yourself and write a value by each task. Ask yourself, did this activity generate more profit? If you are a larger, more established business, this probably means you need to be more active in sales and production. If you are a smaller company, it probably means you have to manage your time more efficiently.

• Contact your past customers. You won’t be bothering them. If you do good work, they would like to hear from you. Your brand name and reputation is the most valuable thing you have going for you.

• Fire that “pain in the butt” enabled employee. The person you get rid of never keeps you up at night. You will be amazed at how much worse it really was once that person is gone.

• Focus on efficiency. Material handling, job layout and setup, drive time and other factors can be inhibitors to profit. While important, they do not contribute to the completion of the job.

• Do one thing at a time. If you, as owner, do multiple tasks, such as sales and field supervision, don’t go do both at once. Consider working in the field until noon and doing sales and management in the afternoon. Try to block periods of time for certain tasks and be disciplined in following that structure. Running all over the place doing everything leaves you frustrated and inefficient. At the end of the day, you need to feel like you accomplished something instead of building frustration.

• Stop telling yourself that your business will be profitable tomorrow. Look at the numbers closely. Make cuts or downsize. Do whatever it takes. Be profitable now. Rebuild from that point.

• Don’t become a bid factory. First it was the fax machine, now it is e-mail. Relationships are built by contacting and interacting with people, not chunking numbers. Meet more people face to face.

• Be visible in your market area. Have a simple Web page that searches in your key zip codes. Use job signs and truck signage to make sure you are noticed. Join local business groups such as Rotary or Lions. I see contractors who are struggling but they don’t have their name on their own vehicle. Are you ashamed?

• Keep learning and improving. When is the last time you tried to learn how to improve your business, attended a seminar, or reached out for assistance? The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Business life is a never-ending cycle of improvements. However, those improvements are not the flavor of the month or idea of the week. Business success requires discipline and a well-rounded plan that is financially, sales and operationally balanced.