When it comes to service business successes and service business failures, I’ve been in both of those positions — and everywhere in between. So, when my service business hit the $23 million mark in revenue, people started asking me, “What is the key to your success?”

Although getting that question is nice and means a lot to me, it is tough to answer because success didn’t just happen. Over the last 20 years, a lot of hard work was involved in building my business —  as well as many mistakes, 14- to 16-hour days and times when I wanted to give up and take a nine-to-five job. I’d often think to myself, “Let someone else be a struggling entrepreneur, I’ve had enough!”

Mike Agugliaro,

Mike Agugliaro, The Business Ninja.Photo credit: Gold Medal Service

I have learned so much about running a business I could write a book, but I am sure very few of the people I want to help would have the time to read it. Or, more to the point, they don’t think they have the time to read something that would help them because they are stuck in the “I’m too busy and tired and exhausted and overworked” mindset to read anything.

As a service business entrepreneur, I worked for about 10 years without attaining what I felt was real success. I was still working long hours, barely saw my family, was probably pretty grumpy and not having much fun. My “Aha” moment came when I realized I was in what I call the “technician’s trap.”

I was great at what I did; I knew every aspect of the technical work. I studied all the time, staying current with the latest equipment and servicing recommendations. I went to classes, and stayed up-to-date on my licenses and certifications. But I was still doing the same thing I’d been doing for 10 years. As a technician, you have two options: Work for someone else and move around until you find a business you’d like to stay with, or start your own business.

Another point-of-view

The big problem with the latter option is most technicians are great technicians, but not very good at building a business. So, in order to be effective as business owners, technicians need to change their point of view. A business doesn’t work in a logical fashion, such as a toilet or a water heater. Once you have the expertise in fixing toilets, you know how and why it works, and what to do about it.

All plumbing companies can fix toilets. To grow a plumbing business, you need more than plumbers — you need good sales people, marketing savvy, best hiring practices, systems, processes, financial and HR support, and great managers.

This is why so many technician-owned businesses struggle and why I decided to “change me.” I was one of those technicians who felt I was so good at what I did, no other technician I could hire would do as good a job. So I held on tight to my belief that I was the best, and no one else could be trusted to be as committed to the business as I was. This is what keeps a lot of service business owners in the technician’s trap. They fear expansion because they will lose control of the quality and care they prized when they started the business.

 I get calls through my network of friends and businesses from struggling business owners telling me they can’t find good technicians, or their market is difficult or the economy is hurting them. And the truth is, my business has done great in the last five years, bringing in an additional $10 million.

It isn’t so much about the employees, the customers or the economy. Running a good business means you need to change your belief system and change your attitude about what it takes to be successful. During the first 10 years of my business, I struggled because I still believed I would never be able to find employees as good as me. And I was so wrong. During the last 10 years, I decided I could not believe that anymore if I was going to grow the business.

It’s kind of like that guy at work who keeps hitting his head on the wall. He always has a headache. But he keeps on banging his head every day, just as he did the day before. Until he changes his behavior, he’s never going lose that headache long enough to see things clearly.