Change is never easy. This is particularly true for contractors and small business owners. We work hard. We are busy. We are production oriented. Many of us believe that hard work will fix things, but sometimes hard work with our shoulder to the grindstone just ends up giving us a sore shoulder. If your business is not offering the rewards you are looking for, you must strive to make changes.

There is an old joke about the wage-and-hour auditor and the contractor. It seems the auditor could not find any employees who were not being paid fairly, and he relayed the news to the owner of the business following the audit. The owner said, “There is one person with an issue. He works 70 hours a week, does not get overtime, rarely takes a vacation and makes very little per hour.”

The auditor replied, “I need to talk to that person right away.”

The owner replied, “You are. It’s me.”

Why is change so hard? It all starts with our own attitudes. You just put in a 10-hour day and tomorrow looks the same; the thought of taking on the additional task of making things better can be overwhelming. When we are busy doing what is urgent, sometimes we forget that other things may actually be more important — but just not as urgent. No one is screaming at you for a plan or new approach. People are screaming at you to finish their job, do an estimate or complete some other day-to-day task. Our network groups were founded on the concept of forcing people to get away from their business for three days to work on priorities and build long-term goals. That old saying, “fail to plan and plan to fail,” really does hold true.

Habits can also play a significant role. Think not? Try crawling into bed tonight on the side your significant other normally sleeps on and see how that goes. The problem is just because something is new does not mean it is wrong. So how can you change your business and make sure you are doing what you need to do? Start with an attitude rebuild.

Denial and indecisiveness play a large role in getting people to change. “I will quit smoking next year; this year has been stressful.” “I am not into computers, email and stuff.” “Our customers don’t use the Internet.” Start envisioning what your business would look like if you made a few changes.

Next build some new habits:

  1. Schedule just three hours of uninterruptable time every week to work on business goals that are not immediate. Turn your cell phone off and close your door.
  2. Keep a time card on yourself and determine how you are spending your time. Delegate things that are not a priority to someone else and substitute business building and planning time.
  3. Do a brand analysis. Search yourself on the web (from another computer) and see how you come up. Are you on all the free listings? Conduct a survey and see who people recommend in your area. Are you in the top three? Are your trucks wrapped and visible?
  4. Visit other contractors from trades other than yours and see how they do things. People who do mechanical contracting, drywall, air conditioning, flooring, etc., will not see you as a competitor. See if your systems are ahead or behind theirs.
  5. Consider hiring some younger people into the organization. Their computer and tech abilities will be better, and they can bring some new insight.
  6. Look into hiring a consultant or a best practices group to take a look at your business. If you do hire someone, make sure they are used to working with small businesses. Maybe you can find a successful contractor in a different trade and ask him to review your business while you review his.
  7. Have a financial planner help you formulate a financial plan. One of the problems contractors have is they tend to tie all their net worth up in the business. If the business fails or hits hard times, they are not diversified enough to survive. Worse yet, it is hard for them to retire as they have no other income sources.

Last but not least, build a long-term vision. Project what you would like your life and business to look like 10 years from now. Too many business owners think they will sell their business for a lot of money and retire. Such a plan includes two basics flaws. One, contracting businesses are hard to sell. Two, retired business owners get bored when they don’t have anything to do. Be realistic about your goals. Start with some simple questions.

Five years from now:

  • What would you like your work week to look like?
  • What will your financial needs be at that point?
  • What changes in personnel will you have to make to ensure this happens?
  • What outside interests do you have that will keep you happy and active?

 One of the things I really like about contractors is that they are alive, active and working at it each day. I was at social gathering recently, and many of the people there were government workers. They were all counting the days until they retired. They plodded to work each and every day with little control of their own domain. Heck, live to work and work to live. Enjoy both. Change your business. Make the changes you need to make it more rewarding.