The business systems and ideas you implement only improve your chances of success.

This month’s column includes a quick fix that contractors everywhere have been searching for. How about a sure-fire, guaranteed marketing plan that will deliver at least $1 million in sales during the next 12-month period? It doesn’t matter how large or small your company is, it doesn’t matter when the next useless phone book comes out for recycling. It doesn’t even matter how much television airtime costs in your area. We simply guarantee to deliver a million bucks in sales over the next year or your money back.

To take advantage of this sure-fire opportunity, simply send me a cashier’s check for $1.5 million and we’ll take care of the rest. Within a year’s time we will deliver at least a million dollars in sales. Soon, you’ll be scratching your head, wondering why you’ve never tried our program before.

If you think your company is too small to handle that sort of volume, we’ll also help you adjust your pricing so that even a one-man shop working part-time can do a million dollars in sales - whether your chosen craft is plumbing, air conditioning, electrical or even clock repair.

But wait, there’s more! Unlike most marketing and advertising programs, our service offers complete scalability. Simply double your check and we’ll double the offer – you’ll get TWO million in sales instead of just one. You could be the first one-truck operator in town to cross the $2 million sales mark! What are you waiting for? Send that cashier’s check today - $1.5 million for a million, $3 million for two. Offer good while supplies last, so hurry!

While this offer sinks in, let’s talk about something a bit more terrestrial. The fact of life is that there is no business system that allows you to simply write a check and start collecting revenues. In order to be successful, we have no choice but to leverage our assets: We have to do something.

For the past quarter century, Plumbing & Mechanical magazine has provided a monthly trove of solutions and ideas for just about every facet of running a successful contracting business. Marketing, sales, flat rate pricing, advertising, recruiting, jobsite management, bidding, office management - these are just a few of the business topics discussed in these pages over the years. As a result of doing something with this information, many a contractor has grown from a garage-based, hand-to-mouth subsistence enterprise to a multifaceted organization throwing off millions in profits.

But there are no guarantees. Even after trying dozens of the great systems and ideas you find in these pages, you can still end up with a mediocre business, perhaps even a total flop. Flat rate pricing does not guarantee success. Dynamite marketing techniques do not guarantee success. Knowing your cost of business down to the paper clips per job ticket will not guarantee success. The systems you implement will improve your odds of success, but they don’t guarantee it.

Finding Your Passion

If your systems can’t guarantee success, is there anything you can do to further improve your chances?

Start by looking at what makes you tick. Find your passion. Most of us aren’t born with a particular passion, although our genes certainly influence it (imagine Shaquille O’Neal riding in the Kentucky Derby). Instead, our passions are formed and tweaked as a product of our culture, experience and opportunities. But there is an additional and primary factor steering our passion: decisions. Even though passion comes from someplace deep in our psyche, it is still subject to our decisive guidance.

Why did you change your youthful passion from becoming the next Wayne Gretzky to becoming the best steam boiler mechanic in town? For most of us, a change like that occurs after a collision with reality. I can skate. I can swing a stick. But can I skate and swing at the same time?

Some business people are driven to pursue wealth and prestige. Perhaps your passion is a bit more altruistic, desiring to protect your clients from greedy contractors who lust for wealth and prestige. Let’s say your passion is to install the best, most reliable plumbing systems possible. Or perhaps you love to resurrect heating systems that could have been installed by your grandfather. Whatever your passion, you’ll need to temper it with reality or you’ll end up like Don Quixote, whose impossible dream, in fact, was exactly that.

When Reality Collides With Passion

Regardless of your passion, it is what ultimately defines your success. In order to fulfill your passion, you will have to set measurable goals in keeping with your passion, but here’s where the reality test comes. For example, if your passion is to build exquisitely designed and executed plumbing systems, what will your goal be? Will you launch a plumbing business that focuses on the finest installations and service? Or will you be better off working for an already thriving company that does the sort of work you love?

Finding that ideal company can, itself, be a major challenge, so you may think that launching your ideal business will be the answer. Right away the assault on your passion begins as you spend time selecting a color scheme for the truck instead of installing elegant piping systems.

When reality collides with your passion, something has to give way. Reality is what it is, so it makes more sense to tweak your passion a bit to match reality. Let’s consider our pipe mechanic example. A passion for plumbing and a passion for the plumbing business are two completely different animals, but there are some common denominators. A good piping installation includes good-quality materials that are properly sized for the application. It would be designed for easy maintenance and probably accommodate expansion.

It may be your passion to install systems like these, but what if you modified your passion to build a business instead of a piping system? Instead of just focusing on top-quality parts, you would focus on recruiting top-quality people to serve your customers. Just as you would install carriers and hangers to support your piping, you would launch marketing and advertising programs to support your sales. I’ll leave further correlations up to you, but the easier it is for you to translate your initial passion into a passion that works in business, the easier it will be for you to build a business.

It’s easy to know when a piping system is complete; you can flush the toilet or heat up a towel warmer. Business success is a bit harder to identify. This is where your measurable goals will serve as markers. You can have big, fuzzy goals: Success is paying taxes on a double-digit profit. But it’s the shorter-term, more measurable goals, such as call counts and sales dollars, that help you get there.

Long before you celebrate the double-digit profit milestone, you’ll celebrate your first “Two Water Heater” day. Measurable, short-term goals make the journey easier since it’s much easier to take a single step than it is to walk a hundred miles. But this doesn’t mean that the trip will be easy. Building a business is challenging and often frustrating. An infinite number of agents are just waiting to derail your lofty plans. If your short-term measurable goals do not support your passion, you could find yourself without the intestinal fortitude required to work through those inevitable rough spots.

One last note about your passion and the way you use goals to fulfill it: Spend some time on the mountaintop while pondering your passion. The worst thing you can do is to invest your life to fulfill your passion only to find that it’s not a very satisfying passion. For example, if your passion is to become wealthy, then your quest for success may be endless since “wealth” is a relative term often defined by what someone else has. If your desire is the respect and admiration of your community or your peers, you may be thwarted by a few crotchety old codgers who just won’t respect anybody.

Your true passion may not even apply to your business. Instead, your business may simply be the pipeline of funds for your passion. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you have succeeded in fulfilling your passion, so pick wisely.

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