Over the past 15 years I’ve traveled all over this country attempting to stamp the message of profitability into the lives of the wonderful people in this great industry, and teach them self-respect for the indispensable work they do. It has been a burning passion of mine.

At various times I’ve tried to enlighten, cajole, embarrass or do whatever else it takes to get the message across. I’ve made numerous friends along the way — as well as a few enemies. What is frustrating to me, however, is knowing that my articles and seminars are not enough. If a seminar was all it took for a contractor to turn his or her life around, you would find me presenting them every week of the year. A seminar helps, but it takes more.

Think about it. What is more demanding than single-handedly taking an existing PHC business that has under-performed for years, with an underpaid and demoralized work force, and turning that business into a vibrant, profit-making money machine? It’s about as hard as negotiating peace in the Middle East or managing the Chicago Cubs to a World Series!

You need more than a rah-rah speech and a workbook. People needing to make radical changes in their business lives need to belong to a sustaining organization.

Creatures Of Habit: One of the most satisfying accomplishments in my life was helping to found Contractors 2000. Few things in life turn out as successfully as one envisions them. This one did.

Contractors 2000 was based on the proposition that there are no “magic bullets” for those contractors desiring to get off the treadmill of zero profits, dwindling market share, high employee turnover and personal misery that stems from hating the work you do. Correct information is only part of the equation. You also need support and nurturing to take you through dramatic life changes.

The biggest reason for this difficulty is that the owner has to change himself, by himself. Remember, this is the same owner who got the business in the sorry position it is in. The same owner who never took time to learn how to crunch the numbers and come up with a selling price that covers all costs plus a profit. This is the same owner who drove employees away because of low pay, little or no benefits, and an antiquated management style. The same owner who believed his technical skills were more important than his business skills and customer service skills.

Most owners of under-performing companies have dozens of bad habits that need breaking. This doesn’t happen overnight, and few people can muster the will power to do it on their own. It’s really no different than any other ingrained habit. Have you ever tried to stop smoking? It sure helps when you have people around giving you encouragement. Ever tried to lose weight and keep it off? If that were a simple task, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig would be out of business rather than multimillion dollar enterprises.

It is the same thing with our businesses. Owners need to link up with other owners who have been there, done that or are also going through the same changes.

Underscoring this is a recent survey done by Contractors 2000 in which we wanted to find out, among other things, which services members value the most. Keep in mind that C-2000 has the best manuals, training tapes, training courses and staff I have ever seen. I am sure they are the best in the industry.

So what did the membership value the most? Was it the incredible sales training course? Or the operations systems that are second to none? The high-energy Super Meetings typically attended by 80–90 percent of members?

None of the above. It was the ability to network with like-minded members in an environment where they could freely share ideas and concerns. That was it.

Flocking Together: An important point to remember is that you must associate with successful people if you want to become successful yourself. Getting together with your peers is not enough. There is no shortage in this industry of monthly cocktail parties where the blind share their visions of success with equally blind colleagues. Beware of people who make you think that rising through the chairs of a contractor association is the mark of success. Recent years have seen a string of top industry leaders go broke and out of business. Many others run companies that have never amounted to much. To achieve business success, seek out those who have achieved business success, not those who have acquired stature through a “good ol’ boys” network.

Naturally, I believe that Contractors 2000 offers the very best shot at connecting with the people who can make you successful. Do yourself a favor and call the C-2000 office at 612/426-2000 to find out if your local territory is available. If it is, then sign up now, before the opportunity passes. Take it from me, it will be the best move you’ve ever made.

However, C-2000 is a restricted, private organization. Only a few hundred of this magazine’s tens of thousands of readers can hope to get in. If you are among those left out, my advice is to seek out other organizations that hold the potential for giving you the business tools you need to succeed. Never mind the political lobbying, code committees, convention entertainment, insurance discounts and all the other frills that trade associations try to sell you on as reasons for joining. None of that stuff means a thing if your business is floundering. And have your guard way up if low dues or fees is their main selling point. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

In deciding whether or not to join a business group, look hard at the leaders from a business perspective. Are they making money? Do they run the kind of business you would like to see yours become? Are they willing to help you do so, both personally and by kicking butt within the organization to provide the tools needed? Is education their top priority — or are they all wrapped up in politics and plumbing codes?

Remember, birds of a feather flock together. You don’t see successful people hanging around with losers. The best thing to ask before joining any trade association or other industry group is for them to identify their most successful members. Do some homework to verify that they are indeed worth emulating, then strike up friendships with them.

If you aren’t impressed with the group’s “best and brightest” contractors, or if they are too arrogant and selfish to share their secrets, better look elsewhere. Although it is hard to go it alone these days, it’s better to do that than hook up with bottom feeders who will drag you down to their level.