You know what they say about hindsight.

After traveling from country to country looking for a place to call home, my parents relocated to America in 1958. It was my father's dream to raise his family in the land of the free, the land where no government could confiscate his belongings at a whim.

My parents spoke French and Italian at home, not knowing anything about the American way of life. They used faith as their guiding light. But eventually my father started his own business in 1965 after working for several union contractors.

He was not trained on how to read financial statements, nor was he anxious to have them created. He relied on the "how-much-money-do-I-have-in-the-bank" method of business.

He established his hourly rate by contacting other plumbing companies locally and asking what they charged as "what the market will bear." He didn't have a plan. He just used faith to guide him.

My father struggled for 10 years building his company from one truck to two. Then, without notice, he died of a heart attack on New Year's Eve 1975. He died with no plan. No life insurance. No what-is-going-to-happen-to-my-business. Nothing.

Following In Father's Footsteps

Being of a young age, 19 to be exact, I quit college and jumped in the plumbing, heating and air conditioning business. I followed my father's footsteps -- using faith to guide me through the difficult years.

Not much has changed for most contractors. Most complain they are not making enough money and put in long hours. Most can't sell their businesses for much when it's time to retire, because they never planned their exit strategy. Most live a modest life: simple house, plain car, travel in economy and rarely do they celebrate life.

Chances are you won't win the lottery. Nor will you line up all the sevens in the slot machine. Chances are you do not have a rich uncle that will take care of your financial requirements.

Having a plan is the key.

It wasn't until recently that I realized what owning a business meant. It took me years to figure it out. Faith is important to have, but it is not the most important ingredient. You have to have a plan. A direction. I learned we cannot get anywhere in life without a well-designed road map. (But, of course, men are the worst at asking for directions and following them!)

But before we can get on the map, we must know where we are. We have to know our strengths and weaknesses. We may be great at tackling a technical problem, but fall apart handling a delicate management situation. Once we know where we are, then we start the journey.

Of course, you can't start driving until you know where you want to go. The same stands in business -- what are your plans? How much money do you want to earn compared to the time and risk you're willing to invest? The more we plan for our success, the better chance we have of getting there.

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson of all came after I sold my businesses. I didn't know what to do with the money. I was so consumed with working, working, working that I forgot to learn about investing.

In fact, I looked around and realized that most people that work do not have the time or knowledge of how to invest their money. My "well-to-do" friends retired at an early age not because their businesses were so profitable, but because they could make more money staying at home investing their money -- playing the game of real estate.

If I only knew then, I would have acquired thousands of apartments and rentals with the money I earned. Buying low, selling high. The cash cow of real estate would have me set for life.

Instead, I did what most people do -- invested in stocks, bonds and other investments I knew nothing about. Why didn't somebody say, "Hey Maio, wake up man, you can make lots of money investing wisely."

Our paychecks should be used to acquire assets. In a small business, it's tough to get ahead financially. We put in too many stressful hours. Do the math; if you worked half the time in your business and spent the other half investing your money, you'd make more money.

If I were to do it over again, there would be no question in my mind that most of my day would have been spent investing my money. My road map would have been checked daily to insure I was on the proper path. I would have stayed home more often, spending time with my family and friends. I would have worked less in the business and more on my personal goals.