Playing the denial game will make a bad situation worse.

Newton’s third law of motion says: To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A correlation in the world of business would be: Actions have consequences. When considering the dynamic nature of the business world, inaction is the same as action because inaction also reaps consequences. Allow me to illustrate the action/consequence principle with a picture that even an 8-year-old can grasp. 

Like most any kid, I grew up with a sweet tooth. I loved my mom’s sweet tea, which incorporated a cup or more of sugar in a 2-quart pitcher. On special occasions, I would imbibe NuGrape sodas, later on graduating to Dr. Pepper, a much more adult drink. Combined with a love for Double Bubble chewing gum, my diet was not considered ideal for dental health. It should be no surprise that my short-term thinking earned me a mouth full of amalgam. But that was just the beginning of the consequences of ignoring consequences.

A filling may prolong the time it takes for a tooth to rot, but once the decay gets underneath the filling, there is nothing to protect tooth nerve endings. The excruciating stab of a breeze blowing across my face heralded my first root canal.

I reclined in the chair, surrounded by implements that could have been conceived only by a sadistic madman. I was impressed by how similar the root canal bit was to the auger I used in my right angle drill when installing water piping. Bits of tooth and decay splattered my tormentor’s goggles and after about 30 minutes of grinding, I was sure the drill was going to pop through the bottom of my jaw. Finally, the clean-out job was finished. On this trip, he topped off the root excavation with a nice crown and a bill for about $500.

A few years later the crown popped off. Since its nerves had long since been replaced with filler, we didn’t numb the tooth before doing a bit of minor shaping. I just wish the smoking-hot, high-speed drill had not slipped onto the adjacent tooth.

But this wasn’t the end of tooth problems initiated decades ago. A few years later, the repaired tooth began to disintegrate further. It’s a jarring moment whenever you bite into a steak and feel the crunch of a bone only to realize that “bone” is part of a tooth. But a good dentist, when supplied with a Visa card, can repair a lot of damage, so the price of a good TV set was invested in my mouth, yet again.

Years later, with the hollowed-out remains of that tooth approaching 40 years of age, a new phase began. The first time the ache began I was in denial, so I tried to tough it out. Here’s a tip: When a tooth is coming apart in your mouth, you should make sure to have a toothbrush handy for every meal. It’s not to clean the tooth; it’s to massage your gum so that the ache will go away. After a couple of weeks, anything with a bit of sugar, especially any soft drink, was off limits as the sharp pain was instant and the massages were less effective.

At some point the ache turned into an unpleasant fact. It was always there. I could block the throbbing by staying busy but any time I allowed my concentration to drift, that molar would let me know it was still there. Every now and then, such as whenever I would eat, laugh or take a deep breath, the dull pain would give way to a stab like a knife - no, maybe it’s more like pounding a finger with a framing hammer - on third thought, maybe it is more like pounding my tooth with a hammer, and a chisel. Yeah, that’s a bit closer.

Sometimes the flare-up was enough to make me sweat. I know what Dustin Hoffman must have felt in “Marathon Man.” At night, when there were fewer distractions, those sharp episodes were enough to wake me up. It was past time to take drastic action. The tooth was going to have to go.

The dentist agreed with my assessment of the situation, so for $195 (or the value rate of only $145 if I joined his “Smiley Club”) he would pull the rotted remnants out of my head. He struggled, twisted and yanked and finally had to drive in a splitting wedge because I had a long and somewhat hooked root. I was glad he quoted a flat rate price.

Relief was instant, even before the novocaine wore off. It was a bittersweet moment to see the remnants of that tooth, representing close to $3,000 in service work over the years.

Good Fiscal Hygiene

So, why is it that I’m torturing you with this painful analogy of 20,000 rpm drills and seemingly hours of sitting with a guy’s arm stuck down my craw? I share this tale because too often I see a similar story played out in the contracting world. “I don’t need a business plan - I just go out there and charge what I need to get by, collect cash when I can and things are good.” Or, “I’ve been so busy lately, why should I waste money on marketing?” Later on, the conversation starts sounding like, “I know I’m making a profit on every job but why am I so broke all the time?” Or, “How can I make the phone start ringing - this afternoon?!”

A little further down the road, we’re hearing, “I can’t believe that blankity blank supply house cut me off. How do they ever expect me to pay them if I can’t get parts to do a job?” Or, “It’s impossible to find decent help these days. Everyone I hire is either trying to rip me off or rip off my customers.” Nearing the end, “The IRS did it to me this time. If I made all that income, then where is it now?” And finally,  “In seven years this bankruptcy will be off my credit report, right?” Or, “Yes ma’am, you can find flappers over on aisle 14.”

Do your eyes pop open wide when that needle-sharp probe finds an alert nerve? Is this giving you the heebie-jeebies? Now you know what I feel like when I encounter contractors who aren’t practicing good fiscal hygiene. The good news is that unlike dental decay, contracting decay can be halted and even turned around. A tooth won’t grow back but your business can, if you don’t wait too long to get started.

And don’t forget to floss!

Between brushing, Randall Hilton helps contractors practice good fiscal hygiene. If you’re suffering a bank ache, visit his Web site for some relief -