People smarter than me have spouted wisdom for many a year. This marks my 40th year as a contractor consultant. Yogi Berra said “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Wayne Gretzky is credited with “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” And Aristotle uttered “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.”

The years have flown by and while not famous, I’ve accumulated some “contractorisms” that I believe have an eternal shelf life. Here are some of my not so famous quotes:

1. “Fired and gone-bad employees rarely keep you up at night.” 

Most small business owners wait too long to terminate employees who have gone bad.  Maybe we grow attached to them or worry that we cannot find someone else. I think the problem is that many of us buy into their never-ending excuses, problems and sad sagas. In almost every case, the owner regrets he or she did not fire the person years earlier. When it’s time for someone to go, it’s time for them to go. Yes, at one time, maybe that person could have been saved, but if you’re way past that point, pull the trigger. Everyone will be better off.

2. “Sell like a stalking cat, not a barking dog.”

Selling is a skill of listening, not talking. Good salespeople use their expertise to solve the customer’s problems and fulfill their needs. You can’t solve a problem until you find out what it is. Begin all sales encounters by asking questions and gathering information.  Take notes and be attentive. People love to talk but hate to listen to a “sales pitch.” 

3. “Never fight with pigs, you get all dirty and they just love it.” 

Conflict is inevitable. How you handle that conflict says a lot about your character. Yes, I know it’s very difficult to keep quiet as someone loudly insults your mother’s heritage, but lowering yourself to their level will get you nowhere. Listen and let the person vent. Most normal people will calm down. It’s like letting the air out of a balloon, once the air is out, you can easily handle the balloon, let them express their feelings and they will probably feel guilty. Always try to deal with people’s feelings first.

4. “Burning the midnight oil is a poor use of energy.”  

Quit taking work home and trying to work on it late at night. Yes, I know you may not be a morning person, but most folks are burned out at 9 p.m. Instead, get up a little earlier and tackle that project in the morning. Also, don’t let what pops up in your email take your day hostage. Try to get an estimate or a project that requires quiet time done each morning. Also schedule uninterrupted time during the day to work on time-consuming projects like estimating or job analysis. Finish small items as they pop up, don’t put stuff off and say you will do it later. Later never comes and the file just gets bigger.

5. “Productivity has little to do with hard work.” 

We inherently think that ‘The harder I work, the more productive I will become.’ It’s just not so. Putting your shoulder to the wheel and your nose to the grindstone only ensures that you have a sore shoulder and nose. For contractors, productivity is an issue of planning, jobsite readiness, craft time, travel, setup and many other factors other than hard work. Tools and methods also play an important role. A painter with a two-inch brush can work hard and get nowhere against a twelve-inch roller. Or a roofer with a hammer can have a hard time keeping up with a nail gun. How hard someone works also doesn’t take into consideration quality or craftsmanship. Obviously if someone is lazy they’re not going to be productive, but that’s just one small part of the equation.

6. “No matter how hard you try, you can’t turn chicken manure into chicken salad.”

You can deep fry it, and put lots of relish and ketchup on it, but in the end, you still have manure. We all want to hire the perfect skilled worker who shows up on time, and is dependable and trustworthy. Unfortunately, most of those people are already working for someone else who doesn’t plan to let them go. Hire people with work ethic and teach them skills.  You can teach skills but it’s very difficult to teach work ethic. Work ethic is something you learn as a child and is part of your family values. 

7. “Pick which hills to die on.”

You can’t win every battle and get everything done as a business owner. You must decide where to dig your heels in and make a stand. My wife received a recipe book from an Australian customer that uses an unusual spice. I’ve grown a little tired of it, but I’m not going to knock getting a home cooked meal; that would be stupid. Don’t let pet peeves drag you down. If it doesn’t impact productivity or quality and only matters to you, maybe you should let it slide. 

8. “Be an eagle, not a seagull.”

Too many managers show up on the job, squawk, dump on people and leave. Never seagull people. Try to manage with a future focus, not on what went wrong. Leadership is the ability to influence others to accomplish organizational goals. Management without leadership is like aligning the deck chairs on the Titanic. Stay future focused with an attitude of problem avoidance and productivity planning. 


While I’m not Aristotle or Yogi Berra, I hope this insight has brought value.