Systems and Perseverance

In my last post, I talked about shifting our focus from our goals to the steps we will take to attain them. In other words, viewing the means as the ends.

This perspective can be particularly beneficial when we are pursuing a goal that does not show immediate results. Viewing the means as the end helps us to persevere. It helps us continue the steps necessary to attain our goal.

As an example, I often meet a lot of resistance when I teach contractors my sales system. A big part of the resistance comes from the fact that I suggest that the contractor raise his labor rate. They don’t believe that they can sell jobs at a rate that is 50 percent to 100 percent higher than what they have been charging.

If they continued doing things as they have in the past, their concerns would be valid. But sales do not occur in a vacuum. Increasing one’s price involves more than simply putting a higher number on the estimate. Obtaining higher prices must be a part of a sales system.

The sales system that I teach involves a series of steps that are relatively easy and inexpensive. They are designed to immediately and significantly differentiate a contractor from his competitors.

Once they overcome their fears and implement the system, contractors discover that customers are not as concerned about price as much as the contractor believed. They discover that their closing rate remains the same (and often increases) despite the higher price.

Our goal as a salesman is to sell paint jobs. But if we focus on getting the sale, rather than the process to obtain it, we do ourselves and the customer a disservice. And we get fewer sales. However, if we focus on the system—the steps necessary to achieve the desired result—good things usually happen.

Focusing on the means makes it easier to persevere when things aren’t going well. And perseverance makes it much more likely that we will get the results we desire.

The Means as Ends

Goals are important. They establish where we want to go. However, when our progress is slow, it can become easy to abandon the goal. Often, the reason is because we focus on the goal and not the means for attaining it.

Achieving a long-term goal takes perseverance. It can be hard to maintain the drive over a period of months or years, even when we might be making progress. The goal remains in the distance. We can overcome this by shifting our focus from the goal to the means.

As a simple example, consider someone who wants to lose 30 pounds in 6 months. He may weigh himself daily, hoping to see progress. If he doesn’t lose weight as quickly as he’d like, he may get discouraged and abandon the goal. But what if he focuses on the means?

Let us say that, instead of eating fast food for lunch, he decides to carry his lunch each day in an effort to eat healthier and lose weight. His goal is no longer 6 months away—he now has a daily goal. The means become an ends.

By shifting the focus, he can now see progress each day that he carries his lunch. He knows that if he keeps doing that, he will eventually lose weight. And he finds it much easier to focus on what he can do today rather than focusing on the weight he hopes to attain in 6 months.

The same principle applies to any long-term goal: if we keep doing the right things, we increase our chances of experiencing good results.

We should certainly plan for and think about the long-term. But it is often easier to accomplish long-term goals by focusing on the short-term— the means.

Growing Pains

If you are like most contractors, you dream of growing your business. You may want to get out of the bucket and turn production over to others. You may want to hire a salesman or office manager. You may want to add another crew. Regardless of your own particular goals, growth can be a painful experience if it isn’t managed properly. And the key to properly managing growth is having systems.

Growth necessarily entails delegating tasks and responsibilities to others. If we want to get consistent, desirable results, then we must have systems in place to ensure that our employees are taking the proper actions.

When I first began delegating responsibilities, I often lamented the fact that my employees didn’t do
things the way I wanted. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize why—I hadn’t trained them to do things the way I wanted. I assumed that they would somehow know. That erroneous assumption led to a lot of growing pains. Systems won’t eliminate all of the pains associated with growth, but systems will minimize those pains.

With systems in place, we have a process for handling the myriad issues that accompany growth.

For example, if we add another crew, we need to sell more jobs. And to sell more jobs, we need to generate more leads. When we sell more jobs, we have more customers to keep informed. We have more paperwork to keep organized. Without systems, we could easily find ourselves dealing with an endless stream of emergencies, jumping from issue to issue in an effort to put out the latest fire.

But with systems in place, we have a process for generating leads, for selling jobs, for communicating with customers. Fewer things fall between the cracks. We can be proactive and manage the company’s growth, rather than be reactive to the crisis du jour. And that is a lot less painful.

Training Our Customers

Most contractors recognize the need to train their employees. If we want work performed to a certain
standard, we cannot assume that our employees know how to achieve that result. We must show them the proper way to perform the tasks required in their job.

Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the need to train our customers. Yet, the results can be much worse than failing to train our employees.

Consider: You have given the customer an estimate and they ask if you can do better on your price. If you immediately cave and reduce the price, you have taught the customer a lesson—his wish is your command. And he will likely continue to act on that premise.

However, if you tell the customer that you can reduce the price by changing the scope of work or by using different materials, you have taught a much different lesson—your price is determined by the labor and materials required, not the customer’s desires.

Virtually every interaction with our customer implicitly trains him as to what we expect and will tolerate. We can train the customer to use and abuse us, or we can train him to treat us with respect and professional courtesy.

As professional contractors, we know what it takes for a job to go smoothly. This requires everyone involved—our employees and the customer—to do their part. We spend time training our employees to do their job efficiently and to our standards. We should do the same with our customers.

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