A few common traits of the "lone guns" in the industry.

One-man shops are prolific in the plumbing, heating and cooling trades. I suppose that for every one-man operation, there's a unique reason why the proprietor has chosen to go it alone, but I have found a few common traits. If you are the “lone gun” in your shop, see if any of the following statements fit you.

I am a One-Man Band because:

  • I want to be in charge of my own destiny.
  • Nobody cares as much about quality as I do.
  • It's impossible to find decent help these days.
  • Nobody cares about my customers as much as I do.
  • I never could find a company that appreciates my talents, but I don't care for all the hassles of managing employees.
  • I like to (circle all that apply) golf - fish - hunt - curl - bowl - watch matinees - goof off whenever I want to.
  • I'm just getting started in business.
Did any of these ring true with you? I know there are plenty of other reasons, but these give us a good starting point.

As a lone operator, you probably like being in charge of your own destiny. You get to decide what hours to work, whom to work for, how much to charge and how to spend your money. When a job goes well, you get all the credit. You may even celebrate by buying another cool tool. If a job goes sour, it usually means a few more hours of work but it doesn't really “cost” anything. Nobody tells you to knock off for the day because you're getting into overtime. Now that's freedom! “The Man” certainly doesn't tell you what to do.

Who Cares? “Nobody cares as much about quality as I do.” As a craftsman, quality workmanship is your job and your responsibility. If someone is signing your paycheck, they deserve your best.

If you own the business, however, you don't get to stop merely with the quality of your craftsmanship. There's nothing wrong with being a dedicated craftsman - we need more of them! But once you take on the mantle of business owner, you have a different criteria.

If you really care about quality craftsmanship, you will use your lofty position to develop more craftsmen. In the one-man shop, craftsmanship suffers from the unrelenting onslaught of paperwork, phone calls, meetings and all the other trappings of “owning” a business. Give something back to your profession by growing your own, quality-conscious craftsmen.

You Wouldn't Want To Work For Me, Would You?

“It's impossible to find decent help these days.” One-Man Bands are, by definition, immune to this problem, but it's certainly not a sign of someone in charge of his or her own destiny. Failing to grow because of a skilled labor shortage is nothing but a reaction to circumstances. It is certainly not a sign of someone taking charge of the situation.

Our trades are more noble and have more opportunity than a host of professions touted by so-called “higher education.” What can be loftier than protecting and promoting health, safety, comfort and convenience? Yet, our recruiting sounds something like “You wouldn't want to be a plumber, would you?” Add meaning to your destiny by proudly recruiting for your trade. After all, a 4.0 grade point average shouldn't keep someone from joining the noblest of professions.

I Really, Really, Really Care:

“Nobody cares about my customers like I do.” This is one of my favorites. I can still smell the aroma of Mrs. Ramsey's fresh-baked apricot bread. I think that sometimes she'd dream up a plumbing problem just to have a visit and I, of course, was glad to oblige.

Yes, I cared so much about my customers that nobody else could possibly fill my role, even if it meant waiting 10 days to two weeks for me to get there. After all, it wasn't too much trouble for Mrs. Ramsey to get her walker down the steps to the sidewalk where she could open the curb stop just long enough to fill the toilet tank and draw a little water for washing.

Yes, I cared about my customers. How about you? Do you care that much, too? If you care about customers at all, care enough to develop better service. Just don't be surprised if you find that a customer actually likes someone you hired better than they like you!

Is It Just Laziness?

For those who are talented, yet don't want the hassles of hiring employees, just consider what happens if all that talent spends a couple of weeks in bed with a back strain. Leisure time with muscle relaxants and the latest Plumbing & Mechanical may be a great way to wile away the hours, but it doesn't do much for those customers you love so much and it sure doesn't pay bills.

Perhaps you could learn to put up with employee hassles to the point that time off wouldn't hurt your business or your customers. Maybe you could even sneak out for curling practice. After all, you weren't born with a broom in your hands. None of us were born with an employee manual in our hands either.

The Cold, Hard Truth About Destiny

In reality, “being in charge of your own destiny” is a malapropism. Destiny is merely sitting idly by, awaiting the inevitable. A kid playing on the railroad tracks is destined to an unhappy end. It is inevitable. It is ordained. When the train comes along, it's curtains for him. Unless, that is, he sees the imminent danger and gets off the tracks.

Going it alone because of circumstances is to simply sit on the tracks, taking your chances with destiny. You deserve better and so does your profession.

The word you should be taking charge of is “destination.” Envision your destination and get going. You haven't yet arrived and the best is still to come.