Reading about business and your industry can help set you apart from others in your field.

John Cafferty was a former Marine and a crusty sort who only knew two ways of doing things. His way (the right way) and the wrong way, which was any other way but his.

And, he was consistently right. John had gained enormous respect in the industry for his command of highly specialized commercial heating and process boilers. Having reached a time in life when there was no successor for his business to go on, he sold it and joined our company at the encouragement of my dad. He trained me and a lot of others at my company on how to work on this type of sophisticated equipment.

When I began training as a technician with John, he pulled me aside and told me that what separates the men from the boys in this business are the tools we own, who we find as mentors and the reading we do. I saved up and bought the tools, I was fortunate to have many mentors like John, but the reading was tough to do.

But when you worked with John, you did things his way and you listened. He was constantly pushing me to spend 10 hours a week reading installation manuals, the monthly trade journals and technical bulletins.

One day I summoned up the courage to say, "John, I have a young family and I work from sun up to late in the evening. Where am I supposed to find 10 hours a week to read this stuff?"

John grimaced as if he'd now heard this lame excuse for the millionth time and he leaned in close as he answered. "Let me ask you something. How many hours a night do you watch TV? Would you agree probably two hours a night at least? And, how about the weekends? Could you get up early and read for an hour or two on Saturday and Sunday? Here's what I know. If you commit to reading 10 hours a week, you'll become a master. If you commit only five hours a week to reading, you'll still become very good at what you do. It's your choice."

Always Plenty To Learn

I took his advice and chose to read 10 hours a week. All the stuff that all the others tossed aside when doing installations, the monthly trade journals collecting dust in our office and the technical bulletins that manufacturers always seem to be sending us but no one ever found time to read.

Within a few years, I had become good enough to be nicknamed by Dan Holohan as "The Ace Troubleshooter" and with a lot of other training and mentors like Dan, I got to be one of the very best steam troubleshooters in the country.

No, I'm not smarter than anyone else. What I do have is one trait that has served me well. I'm willing to do what I don't like and I'm not good at. But, the more I work at it, the better I get. I'm not embarrassed to ask for help from good teachers. I'm willing to spend the time reading and researching something until I have mastered it or at least gotten proficient at it. And, I recognize there's always plenty more to learn.

The world is full of talented people. They're blessed with a gift. But many of them lack the drive and discipline it takes to maximize their talent. So, when they're quitting, the trick is to be hitting your stride. You do this by reading more, asking more questions and learning more to maximize your talent.

I guarantee that if you work hard, do the reading and seek the right mentors, like John, you'll succeed where more "talented" peers don't. The only caution is that you're bound to find someone out there who is talented and works hard. And that's an unstoppable combination. The good news is there aren't too many of those people around.

Suggested Business Reading

To be the best I can be today as a business coach, I continue the good habits of reading and seeking the advice of mentors I respect. And when I can't be around those mentors, I read and re-read what they've written.

Here are just five of the business books (now available online at that I like to think of as my mentors. As I look at the yellow highlighted sections, I try to remember the lessons and put them into practice.

1. "Good to Great" by Jim Collins is filled with detailed analysis of companies that either went from good to great or fell on hard times. This is the most comprehensive work I've read on what it takes to move from good to great and also how hard it is to stay there. The results of the research will shock and enlighten you.

2. "Mastering the Rockefeller Habits" by Verne Harnish focuses on the timeless principles you need to master. It talks about the right type of meetings to have and how to get your company aligned with a core set of values that guides everything else you do. It provides a blue print for producing successful business results.

3. "The E Myth Contractor: Why Most Contractors' Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It" by Michael E. Gerber is a great sequel to his original book that was the catalyst for my creating the systematic approach at my own company which centered on the creation of the Operating Power! manual. This book focuses on what you, as the owner, must be doing to have a business that works without you.

4. "Just Add H2OH! [A Recipe for Hydronic Marketing Success]" by Dan Holohan is more than a book about hydronic heating. It's one of the very best books you'll ever read about how to discover your niche and then sell on more than just low price. It's filled with practical advice and examples that will help any contractor, no matter what you're selling. Go to to purchase it.

5. "Where Did the Money Go?" by Ellen Rohr is the best primer about the most important subject we, as owners, must master to experience any financial success. You'll learn why you need to know what goes into determining the true price you have to sell your goods and services for. And, you will come to understand what to look at on your balance and income statements like never before. It's also about understanding the difference between tax accounting and real world accounting. Go to to purchase it.