Sometimes it felt like my days were spent slaying dragons, putting out fires and squeezing in enough value-generation (painting) to be able to keep the wheels turning for another day. Rinse and repeat.
Most of the clients I worked for were more financially successful than me. Once in a while there was a customer that seemed to have things figured out pretty good - they seemed successful at life. If I had a good rapport with them, I would ask them for one piece of advice that they thought was a key factor to their success over the years. I thought of it as mining for nuggets. Why insist on doing things the hard way if there was an easier option?
Some of the answers I received didn't resonate - they didn't jive with my personal values. Some advice was straight forward, practical (i.e. work hard). In ten years of asking, the most interesting, beneficial and actionable answer came from my best customer. I don't think it was a coincidence.
Jim, I thought, would be a good person to ask. He owned and operated a high-end custom home design/build company. At the time he simultaneously owned and operated a high end restaurant in the heart of wine country. Those two business sectors alone were notoriously challenging for entrepreneurs to survive in, let alone thrive. Besides that, Jim is an accomplished musician. He and his wife help their 4 children reach their potential through schooling and entrepreneurship. Jim is very busy. But he finds time for family, exercise, hobbies, holidays, and for everybody that he comes in contact with. And he never seems stressed.
What was one key to his success?...
'It's in how you treat people.'
That's it. That's all he offered, the main factor in his success. Delivering what you say you will deliver. Treating people with respect. Being reasonable. Building relationships. It is deceivingly simple, yet profound advice.
Over the years I noticed Jim practice that principle. He introduced himself to every new worker on a job site. He never lost his temper with a difficult customer or any tradesperson. He always paid bills on time and in full. He has high standards for his projects and helps you do your best work. He is reasonable with his schedules.
The point is that anyone can choose to treat others with respect and reasonableness, it's within all of our ability. It reminds me of the Golden Rule that we probably all learned as youngsters - treat others as you would like to be treated.
As a micro-contractor you have an advantage. You are not a human face representing a huge corporate structure. You are the business, a very human business. You can go the extra mile in extending personal service that dignifies your customers. That is a huge competitive advantage that is within all of our reach! Your customers will notice and respond.
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