Happy New Year! Let 2024 be your breakout year.

You survived the pandemic, supply chain distribution disruptions, rising inflation, uncertain economic challenges, unexpected volume of work without enough help to keep everyone happy and satisfied, enough tension and strife to add a few more gray hairs — or hair loss — and, yet, here you are starting another year in the trades.

Hate New Year’s Resolutions? Admit it, you’ve made them too, and even if they were silent, unshared, unwritten, well-intentioned ones, not all of them were met. “This is the year I will…” Rather than set unrealistic goals disguised as resolutions, here’s one that can alter 2024. It’s easy to meet, and one that can fatten your bottom line: Exceed expectations.

Batting cleanup

In baseball terms, that’s the fourth batter in the lineup who is the most powerful hitter in the hopes that bases will be loaded and the batter will hit a home run. In your business, I’m referring to job site cleanup. I’m currently helping the folks at Interplay Learning create online courses for mechanical contractors from apprentices just getting started to those with years of training under their belts. Right now, we’re building a course on a Farmhouse Sink installation. Part of my job entails ensuring the course matter is accurate and follows logical steps. After removing the old kitchen sink and cutting the countertop, front of cabinet, and building the needed structural support, the next step needs to be cleaning up the work space or else the sawdust gets tracked through the home.

As you know all-to-well, making a mess of your job site reflects poorly on you and your reputation. That often casts doubt on your skills in the homeowners’ eyes and once that happens, your work becomes suspect. You can be the best top-notch mechanic in the world, but leave a mess and you’re not getting invited back. Leave the job site cleaner than it was when you arrived and you’ll be a hero.

Sometimes that means you’re cleaning up debris from other trades — like the electricians. We once were included in a “shotgun” lawsuit (everyone gets sued in the blast) because the tile guy’s Baker Scaffolding on wheels tipped over when the wheel got jammed by debris left behind by one, or more, of the trades that day and tiling was performed at night. We had covered our ass-sets by getting the job site supervisor to sign off each day that we had cleaned up our work area.

Service with a smile

Answer your phones, cell or landline with a smile. Customers can hear a smile via your tone and expression. You’re in a business that is stressful, so this is not always easy. Bear in mind, your customer is having a bad day: no one looks forward to unexpected expenses and Lord knows they already think we’re too expensive. This can be especially challenging when fielding complaints!

Before I “learned” better, I would get tangled up in the customers’ ire and take the bait: that never ended well and only accelerated the rate at which I would finish a pack of mom antacids! Eventually, I learned to let the hurled insults bounce off and let them exhaust their anger until they finished and then asked them what they thought I should do to satisfy them or make them a happy customer. Often surprised by how reasonable their requests were, we could then negotiate a settlement we both could live with. That also headed off a bad review on one, or more, online axe-grinding sites.

Don’t ignore a problem

Always respond to bad or nasty online reviews — always. Be polite and state you are sorry the reviewer was not happy or pleased with the services you provided. Calm, cool and collected responses put you in a good light for anyone who happens upon the review and casts doubt upon the one spewing nasty rhetoric. Don’t give away the farm online! If you want to negotiate a settlement, do that offline.

Own your mistakes. Let’s be honest, we all make mistakes from time to time. Nothing is worse than being caught trying to gloss over or cover up a mistake. That’s a surefire reputation killer. Some of our most loyal clients were ones where we sought our mistakes, made the necessary corrections, and reflected the discounted labor/materials in our billing.


One of the biggest complaints heard about mechanical contractors is failure to communicate in a timely fashion - or not at all. People will remember how you made them feel, long after the experience. Given you have a cell, can text, and/or email, there’s no good excuse for not communicating effectively, in a timely manner, providing arrival times, scheduling, and with follow-up calls soliciting online reviews because nothing diminishes lousy reviews than a much larger number of rave reviews.

Treat yourself, and others, with respect

Treat yourself well, and if you have employees, treat them how you wanted to be treated way back when you first started. In order to be respected, you must first respect. Accept the fact that you will have to give more than you will receive because that’s the nature of human nature. Take care of your employees and they will, in turn, take care of your customers.

You can be the best top-notch mechanic in the world, but leave a mess and you’re not getting invited back. Leave the job site cleaner than it was when you arrived and you’ll be a hero.

Empower your employees. Grant them the authority to handle customer concerns/complaints. Don’t make the process cumbersome by requiring the employee tell the customer they can’t do anything and that the customer will have to deal with the office or owner directly. My employees knew I’d back their decisions and never give them the devil in front of a customer or other employees. Did they sometimes go too far? Absolutely, but they also salvaged the relationship with our customers and that’s worth its weight in gold.

Think ahead

Plan for your, and your employees' retirement. When we first took the reins at the company we purchased (where my career had begun), there was no retirement plan. Two long-term employees retired within the first few years: one who had planned and saved; and one who didn’t have two nickels to rub together, although he had inherited land and money, which he had spent long ago with no forethought to how he would survive financially post-employment.

Realizing that not every horse can be led to water for a drink, we set up a 401K with company profit sharing so that even if an employee did not contribute ant money, we would be sharing profits by way of contributing to their 401K. By the time we sold our business end of 2019, several employees had tidy sums accumulated that will grant them a far better retirement and exceed their expectations.

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!