What a Construction Company Owner Turned Farmer Can Teach You

by Jackie

Over 50% of small businesses fail. This is the story of one.

This small business started off as a partnership. Two guys who started putting in sprinkler systems in high end neighborhoods. One guy realized there was a lot of competition in the sprinkler business, and not a lot of profit margin and decided they should take their business bigger. They should expand.  He started thinking that if they did some of everything they’d make more money and be able to reach more people.

When you try to talk to everyone you talk to no one.

So they expanded. When asked what he does he says “I own a construction company”. He’s pretty proud of that fact. It’s a pretty cool thing to say. You know what people say to him when he says that?  ”Oh”. It’s a fact that he owns a construction company but it doesn’t let anyone know if he does something they need.

He ended up doing a lot of remodeling, and built a new road/driveway for a guy. He built some steel buildings ~ (oh yeah, at this point the partner had flaked and left town, and the guy left was determined to do it all on his own). Then one day a neighbor asked him a question… she said, “Do you do roofs?”. He said, why sure. I think a metal roof would be perfect on your house, and I know a distributor that can help me get that roof on your house for less than a shingle roof.

Done. So he started putting a roof on this lady’s house. Next thing you know, another neighbor is driving by and stops to ask him if he’s got time to do another roof. While he’s doing that roof a few miles away someone else sees him and asks him to do their roof, and the next and the next.

When you can say I do this… whether it’s putting on a roof, or building a steel building, people know if they need that. They also know if anyone they know needs that too. They can raise their hand and say “oh yeah, that’s me… I need you.”

Who are you calling? Who needs you? Do you know? Do they know?

This construction company comes across a great deal on some machinery. It’s pennies on the dollar. The owner thinks new machinery will help him do more jobs. He thinks he’ll be able to diversify and take on bigger jobs. Bigger jobs with bigger profit margins. Against some good business advice he invests a large chunk of change in this machinery.

Now he’s got himself a dump truck, a bulldozer, a semi, a skidsteer… he’s ready to rock and roll and pull in the big bucks. Only problem is, now he’s even more diversified, he’s calling even more people’s names who can’t hear him because he’s not talking specifically to them and now he’s got all this equipment that has to be tagged, insured and paid for.

That good business owner now has a couple other things as well. He’s got panic, and guilt. He’s just spent way too much in a business that wasn’t profitable to begin with, now he’s got to hustle and he feels like he’s drowning. This business is no longer fun for him. He hates getting up every morning. He doesn’t even want to think about it. AND he has to get out there and hustle for business and he hates that. He’s got to make payments that jobs just aren’t covering. He’s got to take care of his family, and he can’t.

Spending money you don’t have doesn’t make a business better, it just makes it more in debt.

This good construction guy has hustled up some business. He is working on a roof, on a busy road, and when he’s done, he leaves. The roof looks great, it was a crazy roof ~ lots of angles, and corners. He did a great job though… but now, unless someone talks to the home owner and asks who did her roof no one will know. This fantastic roofer didn’t leave any way for people to know this was his work. No sign, no cards left, no big sign on the truck stating his name and number.

If people don’t know you do what you do, how can they hire you?

A simple metal sign placed in the yard would have let people know this was his work. It would have been free advertising, right there with a gorgeous roof for proof on a busy highway.

What are you doing to let people know you do what you do?

This construction owner listened to someone with a little marketing experience and started his company with the letter A, you know, so it would come up first in the yellow pages. However, he never took out that yellow pages ad. He refused to create a website, or put ads up on Craigslist or in the local directory. He just didn’t think that would work, and he couldn’t really afford the yellow pages.

If you don’t tell people you exist, no one knows you exist.

There were many ways this construction business could have gotten the word out. They could have created a website, they could have gotten a sign to go on the side of their trailer and trucks. They could have put an ad in the local paper, they could have gotten yard signs to leave on finished job sites. It doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to get the word out that you exist, but if you don’t do it… well if no one knows you exist, you get no customers.

The owner also let his fears get in his way. He was worried if he advertised he’d get more business than he could handle. He’d have to schedule jobs out ahead and he didn’t think it was right to make people wait. He let his fear and his thoughts about how it “should” be get in the way of his business success.

What are you doing to let people know you exist? What fears are holding you back from doing what it takes to let people know you are here?

The biggest problem though was that this construction company was afraid to ask for money. This small business owner had the idea in his head that he couldn’t possibly ask customers for money up front to cover the cost of materials. The owner somehow got it in his head that he just couldn’t possibly do that. It was pushy, made him look bad, the customers would cancel the job… he had a ton of negative scenarios running through his head. He would end up putting the cost of materials on his credit card, and then the job would run long, or something would go wrong and more materials would be needed, and low and behold at the end of the job there was never enough money to cover the credit card payment.

So he’d hustle to get another job and the same scenario would happen… over time the business was more than not profitable, it was costing him money every time he went on a job.

Ask for the money.

If you don’t create something or recommend something that’s going to bring some profit your way, you can only expect to fail. That’s what a business is after all… an exchange of money for something. But you have to have something to sell, and you have to be willing to ask for the money.

The thing about this is, if this business owner hadn’t been so hard headed, if he hadn’t been so scared to try something new, he might have succeeded. Just because you think something is the way it is, doesn’t mean it is, or has to be. You have to be willing to take risks. You have to be willing to try new things that may fail, but they may succeed beyond your wildest dreams. If what you’re doing is not working, and you’re unwilling to try something different just pack it in today.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

This business owner realized a few things over the course of running his business. A few of these things were pretty important to know when undertaking a customer based business.

1. He really doesn’t play well with others.

2. Having customers is pretty similar to having a boss.

3. Tooting his own horn is really not his thing.

4. He really didn’t like construction all that much, even though he was wicked good at it.

Well… it looks like those realizations make owning a construction company not so much fun. This business owner, an entrepreneurial genius to the core decided to call it quits with his construction business. He was miserable and getting angry and frustrated more and more every day. He decided to close the doors to this business. He was down, but he wasn’t out. He found something that was much more in alignment with who he was, the strengths he has, and the things he loves. He’s now a farmer, well he’s working his way to being a farmer. Hard solitary work. Long hours alone in a tractor… just the way he likes it, unless of course his daughter decides to come on a ride along. :)

He’s much happier now. He doesn’t dread going to work each day. In fact, he heads to work and comes back home in a good mood, and reads more about how to make this farming thing work as a new farmer. He’s excited again, and ready to get out there and start over.

So I guess this is the last lesson we have to learn from this construction owner turned farmer… if you hate what you’re doing it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a boss. It’s still just a job (that you now probably put in twice as many hours at, for less pay and no “security”). If you’re going to work for yourself you might as well find something you’re good at and that you love. Life is too short to spend your days being miserable, especially if you own the business.


image credit: Mostly Dans