This column marks 10 short years since I wrote my first article for PM in April 1987. It also commemorates the start of an active 10 years living out of a suitcase, flying from one end of the country to the other presenting my Business of Contracting seminars to more than 12,000 students.

The majority of them have been PHC contractors. Others who have attended include electrical contractors, tow truck owners, chimney sweeps, furniture manufacturers, waste haulers, well drillers, builders, architects, office equipment retailers, CPAs and even the Dean of Business Administration of a major university. PHC contractors aren’t the only ones curious about business basics.

Throughout these last 10 years I’ve tried to hammer home the message that contractors deserve to earn more for their knowledge and labor. As professionals we are entrusted with the life and death responsibilities of protecting health and safety. Not even the medical and legal professions, which dwell in much loftier stations in public esteem, can boast of greater contributions to the public good.

Armed with this deep-seated belief, I took this writing job at the urging of Jerry Tucker, at that time the publisher of PM, and my very special dear friend and mentor, Jim “Word Wizard” Olsztynski. This gave me the chance to share 37 years of business success with my fellow contractors or anyone else willing to listen to my spiel. (Has it really been 37 years in business!) PM gave me what our great president Teddy Roosevelt used to call the “bully pulpit” to preach my gospel of business sense.

A Lesson In Life: I did not take this non-paying job to fulfill my ego. I learned one very important life lesson from my beloved Polish mother. She told me, “Frankie Junior, we are placed on this earth to help one another, to be ‘givers’ rather than ‘takers.’ When you give, you receive a hundred-fold in return. You must try to make sure that the generation that follows will have it better than yours. Do not go to your grave without doing your part.”

During the past 10 years, I have tried my best to become a good writer and teacher following my mother’s advice. I’ve been challenged. It’s given me both joy and frustration, even anger. I am not a very patient person and much of what I’ve seen around our industry has been discouraging. At the same time I’ve never lost my sense of compassion for all those who make their living the same way I do.

Ten years ago I went into battle with a clear image of the enemy. It was to eradicate ignorance from within the ranks of my fellow contractors. Understand, I do not use the word ignorance in a derogatory way. Webster defines the term as “lacking knowledge or education.” This is not necessarily the fault of the person to whom the term “ignorance” applies. What we have is an industry full of the world’s best mechanics who don’t know what the hell they’re worth.

Battling The Status Quo: Most contractors receive a free subscription to PM. Some pay $150 to go to a Blau seminar. They tell me they’ve come to learn how to make more money than they are presently earning. Most tell me they make between $25k-$40k a year charging $35 to $55 per hour, and that they live miserable lives working 60-hour-plus weeks without the ability to fully provide for themselves and their families. About 95 percent don’t have retirement or decent health plans for themselves or their faithful associates.

They don’t have the slightest clue what it costs to operate their businesses. They get their selling prices by calling competitors, nine out of 10 of whom are in exactly the same boat. Consequently, nobody makes any money.

They attend my seminar attempting to catch a magic bullet, expecting overnight success. But I don’t have any magic bullets. What I teach is a professional approach to running a business that results in greater value for customers along with greater compensation for yourselves and your employees. It doesn’t happen overnight — although plenty of students who have “taken the medicine” find that they can turn things around within a year.

Source Of Frustration: Recently, a student who attended one of my seminars called to tell me that for the first time in 10 years of doing business, he finally understood what it really cost him for every productive hour that he sells. Consequently, his labor rate jumped from $35 to $165 per hour. Instead of screaming at him, his customers are happy to know the price up front now that he subscribes to my sons’ (Bob and Jim) flat rate pricing service.

He asked me to send him a list of the seminar attendees, and to make sure all student phone numbers were listed. He wanted to call some of the others to share with them his new-found success and was interested in finding out how many others were experiencing the same thing.

I asked him to become my official pollster and call them all. He did. This is what we found out five weeks after the seminar.

1. Of 45 who attended, 43 stated they had done nothing different and planned to do nothing in the future.

2. All 45 stated they had no time to crunch numbers.

3. Quite a few said that Frank was “blowing smoke.” There was no way they could raise their prices and stay in business.

Survey results like these get me down in the dumps. I often say to myself, “to hell with it. I’ve had enough. It just doesn’t pay.”

Worst of all, the people who say there’s “no way” they can charge any more, end up ruining the market for the rest of us. In the February issue of PM, Walter Anderson of El Cajon, CA, wrote a letter drawing attention to a familiar story. The guy who can never be reached when a customer needs him comes along after a job is done and says he could have done the job for half as much. As a result, those of us who know our costs and price our services accordingly get labeled as “crooks” by the slugs who refuse to learn and continue to lead miserable lives.

Then there are the occasional success stories, like the one I wrote about in the January 1997 PM, who take the Blau medicine and have become models of success. They give me the energy and reserves to continue the battle.

It is frustrating to know that of the 12,000 students I’ve encountered over the last 10 years, only a few hundred have actually turned around their businesses. On the other hand, those hundreds of companies represent thousands of people — when you count all the employees and family members who have benefited — who now enjoy a standard of living commensurate with their talents and efforts.

Come to think of it, I guess I’ll continue what I’m doing for as long as I can.