Michael Gerber, in his business classic “The E-Myth,” coined the term “entrepreneurial seizure.” (Note: if you haven't read this book, stop now, go to the library or bookstore and get it. I'll wait here for you while you read it.) As a refresher, Michael refers to the entrepreneurial seizure as an event that occurs when a technically inclined person decides that they know enough about their craft to start a business.
Mr. Gerber tells the sad tale of a pie maker turned pie businessperson. Her friends told her she was so good at making pies, she'd be crazy not to go into the pie business. I'll let you read the rest of the tale. In the meantime, let's look at a few other causes for ES among contractors.
I'm Tired Of Working For Idiots: Like the pie lady in Gerber's story, you may be the best plumber, boilermaker, HVAC troubleshooter, etc., in the shop. You're the “go-to guy” for all the hard problems and it's obvious that your boss couldn't run the business without you. Pay very close attention to that last sentence - “your boss couldn't run the business without you.” Because you're doing such a great job on the technical side, your boss is able to focus on the business; so yes, he probably couldn't run the business without you. Is there anything in this picture that says you should launch a business? You're the technical expert, he's the business expert. Success depends upon your teamwork.
“But,” you say, “he knows nothing about running a business! I know I could do a better job!” Oh, I see. Because you've been working for a guy who probably learned about business by fixing things, you are somehow more qualified to run a business? What's worse for our industry than a technician owning a shop is TWO technicians owning shops!
If your desire is to launch out on your own, start devouring all the business management material you can absorb. Learn from successful business people by studying the things they've accomplished and learn how they did it.
The 'Killer Marketing Plan'Here's one of my favorites - “I'm going to blow this market open with my 'high-volume, discount-priced service.' We'll offer better quality and better service than anyone. We'll be the most efficient contractor in town because of our high volume.” That's a real unique marketing plan all right. Just follow the Wal-Mart model and run everyone else out of town. This assumes, of course, that you already have a fleet of trucks paid off, scores of super service people who are already trained and equipped. Then, all you have to do is achieve top-of-mind awareness in your market area and you'll be king of the hill.
A great marketing idea alone does not make a great foundation for a business. Getting your message out is only one facet of running a business.
There's No Security Here AnywayThis is another classic. So, you figure that since you're likely to get laid-off when work slows down, you may as well take your chances on your own. A recent client of mine was in a more precarious position: The “good ole boy” he'd been working for was going to close down the shop after 30 years in business. The “obvious” answer was to simply buy the shop and keep the business going so he'd still have a job. The odds are against this youngster making it but he can do it if he wakes up to the fact that he was working for a clueless boss. If he tries to keep the status quo of low, time and material pricing and a pager number for a dispatcher, he's soon to be out of a job. He'll be saddled with the debt of paying off the note to a boss whose brightest move was to sell out to a technician.
If lack of security at your present employer is your main motivation to launch out on your own, you probably lack the vision to build a real business. Either help you employer succeed or find another employer where you can learn the right way to do business.
Everybody Asks For MeHere's another great reason to go into business - customers ask for you all the time. So, the minute you launch out on your own, not only are you taking care of your “favorites” but you're dealing with everyone else, all while trying to run the business. This is when you find out that many of your customers preferred you only because you were their favorite person at their favorite shop. Many will prefer to stick with the shop and simply find another body to take care of their needs. The company you're with sets the stage for your grand performance. Can you perform without the stage?
It's Not Just The KnowledgeThere are plenty of resources available to help you succeed just as there are plenty of resources to teach me how to play piano. In the right hands, resources can be leveraged into thriving, profitable businesses. Or, you may find it's like me and the piano. Until they start writing music for guys that play three notes with each finger I'm better off just playing the radio.
It's Not How Good You Can Do The WorkRunning a business means you're the coach. Coaches don't run the ball; they give it to talented people who can make the plays. You need a vision of what makes your company special and the ability to imbue the vision into your people. You need to know how your market thinks and follow through with your marketing programs. To make your business grow and flourish, you need to be able and willing to hire for the things you aren't good at and share the rewards with those who fill in your blanks.
One look in most phone books will tell you that there are too many contractors in business. Many of them, maybe you, started out with the wrong ideas. Many of them, maybe you, would be better off as a productive member of someone else's team. Or, perhaps you're on your own because you can't/won't take orders from someone else. Maybe your ego won't let you cash a paycheck. Maybe it would be easier for you to learn these skills than it is to run a business without everything you need. After all, you sure wouldn't start a job without all the right tools and parts. The new year is just around the corner. Take inventory of the qualities you have and the challenges you face. Maybe it's time to learn piano?