Jim Hinshaw

Some ideas for success in businesses I have seen and consulted with in the past, not just my business, I have worked with several companies that are large, profitable and dominate their market. One of the first concepts that I learned was that a positive attitude is essential today. Inc magazine just posted the Top Read More

Some ideas for success in businesses I have seen and consulted with in the past, not just my business, I have worked with several companies that are large, profitable and dominate their market. One of the first concepts that I learned was that a positive attitude is essential today. Inc magazine just posted the Top 7 Reasons People Get Fired (http://www.inc.com/john-white/here-are-the-top-7-reasons-people-get-fired-are-you-guilty-of-any-of-them.html) . Number 2 was getting negative. Business is tough enough without an employee adding to the misery, so don’t get caught up in office politics. Remain positive, more flies are caught with honey than an anvil. The exact quote escapes me, but you see where I am going.

Second concept is that we all need a mentor and a coach. No matter how long you have been in business, how large or small you are, a mentor and a coach can prove to be helpful. There is a difference. Ram Charan, in his business book The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company, says;

“What is the difference between coaching and mentoring? A. Coaching generally has to do with success in the current position, with some emphasis—say, 10 to 15 percent—on the next position. Mentoring is the reverse. Most of the emphasis is on the future, probably 80 to 85 percent; only 15 to 20 percent is focused on current performance.” So could one person fill both positions? Possible, but most find it is helpful to have two separate groups to work with. We see this today in mixed groups, where the group acts as a coach, helping other group members to improve processes and systems. In many cases the person who helped you get into the business (maybe the one you bought the business from) can be a mentor. They know what is going to happen next, sort of like your grandparents. They might not know how to order from Netflix, but they do know what happens when you ignore your teenagers for extended length of time.
Several quotes from How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, a pioneer in human relations and how we can influence others.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” So quit talking about yourself, ask them about them.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.” Human beings all make decisions the same way, emotionally, then we justify it with logic.

“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”
Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?” Ask the customer questions that reveal what they think is important, not what you think is critical. You may say, I wouldn’t do that; it actually doesn’t matter what you would do, it is not your house, not your decision. Some would say, not my circus, not my monkeys!

One final quote from the same book that is somewhat debatable, since it is over 80 years old.

“about 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering—to personality and the ability to lead people.” Some say it is dated, and we are in a new time where this doesn’t apply.

But according to Joy Jefferson, in the book published in 2014;

“About 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering—to personality and the ability to lead people. It’s absolutely great to be knowledgeable but without personal and communication skills this will get you nowhere. If you want to be successful you have to learn how to best interact with people from all walks in life. Social skills and good interactions go a long way.”
― Joy JeffersonCarnegie: Carnegie, 70 Greatest Life Lessons 

So it may still be relevant, even in these turbulent times. This is actually good news, since we don’t have to be a master in the trade to be involved. We do need to know where to get technical answers, but the most critical element may be our ability to work with others.

So get your team on the same page, get them skills to help with the interactions they will find in the marketplace. Today the customer is rushed, skeptical, frustrated, and financially troubled. Much going on that they have no control over, it can be overwhelming. Throw in a unit that is down, a hot or cold house, they just may be over the edge. Make sure your team understands how frustrating it could be to come home to a home that is not comfortable, and do not let them say: I understand how you feel, unless they have come home to a hot house. It is OK to say: that would be frustrating, let me go to work, and get to a solution as soon as possible. Smile with honesty and integrity, the customer has a filter that fake smiles will not go thru. And when you ask questions, shut up and listen, you may just hear a clue to what they want from the relationship.

Have you ever wanted to do something really bad? Go with me to 1975, I was working for Meridian Air Conditioning company in lovely Indianapolis, IN. I was selling residential and commercial HVAC, some new construction, some replacement. But this is not about me. It is about Francis Mulhall. He worked with us as a Read More

Have you ever wanted to do something really bad? Go with me to 1975, I was working for Meridian Air Conditioning company in lovely Indianapolis, IN. I was selling residential and commercial HVAC, some new construction, some replacement. But this is not about me. It is about Francis Mulhall. He worked with us as a lead generator. He would run all over town to pick up blueprints, deliver spec books, inquire about new jobs coming up, visited with general contractors, large businesses, guys doing tenant improvement work, in short, anyone who may be in need of a good Hvac company. Francis was a great guy, always had your back, if he could help you, he would.

About the second year of working with him, he shared a life-long desire with me: he really wanted to ride in a blimp! So who doesn’t; they are majestic, quiet, and move with a slow grace. When someone asks, how hard is it to get a ride on the Blimp, here is the official answer. Almost impossible. The website says only to corporate sponsors and government officials.

Francis had the dream, he also had a plan. The Goodyear Blimp came to Indy each year to float over the 500. Francis knew where they docked it, when it came in, how long it stayed. He found out the phone number for Goodyear Blimps, and the local address when they were in town. He camped out, called repeatedly. The call went like this: I want a Blimp ride! The response: are you a government official? If you are one of our corporate sponsors, call the person who works with our corporate team. Francis said I am not in either category, just a guy who wants a Blimp ride.

After the first year, it was easier. He knew when to call, when they were available. And he connected up with some of the office staff.  Remember, this is in the 70s, before internet and cell phones, so it was a lot harder to link up. He learned the schedule of the Blimp, they would make runs over the city for several days before the race. Sometimes they went up with dignitaries, important people. Francis would be sure he was in the vicinity when a practice run was taking off. He would stop by the airport, be available. Francis always wore a coat and tie, which I think was a factor.

A factor in getting a ride on the Blimp. Somewhere about the 3rd or 4th year, he was at the airport where they had docked the Blimp, getting ready to take off again. Francis was talking to a guard, letting him know he was in the system, but probably number 2345, where they would take less than a dozen at a time. Turns out on this special day, someone did not show up. An employee came out, said: are you ready? UH, YES! He got his ride. Said it was magical. Some sound when you take off, but once up in the air, at times it was silent, almost no sound at all. They circled around the city for what seemed like hours, probably only 45 min. Francis was thrilled.

When he shared that with me, he still had his “what an experience” face on. It really meant a lot, as well it should have.

My thoughts today: is there something you have longed to do for some time. We now have a name for these items, call them our bucket list items.   There is even a movie by that title. But I digress.   If you really want it, plan on getting it. Put together a plan; see what it will take, then work hard to achieve that goal. It may be recreational like a Blimp ride. May be focused on business, hitting the next level for your company. Could be personal; lose 15 pounds, bench press 250 lbs. Many of you have received one of my books, just had a distributor rep ask me how the book writing process goes. It goes very slowly, started my first book about 7 or 8 years ago. Actually started 6 of them at the same time, just putting thoughts together in files labeled: Lesson Learned/The Good Stuff/Sales/Never Forget/Motorcycles and so on. Each folder is another book; first two are out, more on the way.

Final note: I had a bucket list item for years, to go to Australia, and have someone pay me to talk. Got that chance about 7 years ago, it was excellent. Will remember that trip for the rest of my life. So today’s article is about setting goals, having those excellent life moments, fulfilling dreams, all the above. Just realize that most of the heavy lifting is up to you. Not many of us will win the lottery; we will have to work for the things we achieve. So start today, make that list, pick out one item to focus on, and put together a plan to achieve it.

 

After fielding several calls this week, a contractor noticed a product for sale on Walmart’s web site that’s not a normal product for them to carry. In doing a little research, I found similar competing units for sale on the Sears website and Amazon. the following units for sale on major retailer sites. In each Read More

After fielding several calls this week, a contractor noticed a product for sale on Walmart’s web site that’s not a normal product for them to carry. In doing a little research, I found similar competing units for sale on the Sears website and Amazon. the following units for sale on major retailer sites.

In each case, the products are sold by an independent third party, not the manufacturer or the retailer. How often we get frustrated when the customer can find out what our equipment costs. Does it really matter that a few consumers have this information? Get past that, the equipment cost has no bearing on what the customer actually pays in 85% of the time. What value is placed on labor costs? Most homeowners do not place price as the most important element. They rank a trustworthy company, products that do what was promised, employees that can be trusted, and a company that does what they claimed they would do, all before the cheapest price.

A theme I have preached for years is this: you must become the “Trusted Advisor”. Until the customer likes, believes and trusts you, business is gonna be hard to do. So how do we become the “Trusted Advisor”? Several ways.

Do what you said you would do

If you have an appointment for 9 am, prepare to arrive at least 10 minutes early to your destination in the event of traffic delays.

Don’t pre-judge

Don’t assume what the customer can buy or will buy, keep an open mind. I have been surprised many times by a customer who bought a high end system for an entry level home, and also surprised by a couple living in a 5,000 square home who asked me for a used unit.

Ask questions

When we ask open-ended questions, ones demand more than a yes or no answer, the trust level is improved. It’s similar to your doctor. If you say your arm hurts, and he says “Take these pills once a day”, that’s not the level of service you expected. If you say your arm hurts and he asks “When does it hurt, when did it start hurting, what movements make the pain worse, did you fall, does it hurt when you exercise, when it rains?”, you feel better when the physician asks questions to help him or her diagnose and prescribe the solution.

And while we’re on the subject of trusted advisors, quit selling units, sell solutions. Solutions are how you assemble the products available in the marketplace to meet the needs of your customer.

So how do you respond when someone asks you if you would install a unit they bought online? Make sure your entire company knows how to answer that question. It will come. First of all, let them know you know things the internet sales site does not, until a proper evaluation is done, you can’t be certain that product will even perform to their desired needs. However, let them know with certainty that you are there for them in the unlikely chance something goes wrong or the product will not meet their needs. After all, we have all purchased something on the internet, and found out to our dismay, it was not what we needed, or even wanted. The internet is a breeding ground for scams of all kinds. Some units you see for sale online may be from an insurance claim and have no warranty at all. In fact, they may be sold illegally. Additionally, the consumer is typically responsible for taxes and shipping, and the unit is legally theirs when it is loaded on the truck, so shipping damage becomes the homeowner’s responsibility.

You must have third party stories to share with customers like this one. One of my clients was asked to install a ductless mini-split in a garage the homeowner had bought online. The contractor gave him a price that reflected a typical install and backed out the equipment cost only. After some squawking, the homeowner finally agreed to the install price. When the equipment showed up, it was a model made only for the foreign market. The homeowner had to re-order the correct unit. The information was clear about the product from a contractor’s view on the website, but the homeowner didn’t understand what to look for. So they had to pay for shipping and restocking fees that cost him an additional $1400 by the time he was done. These are the kind of things we see all the time, the homeowner just does not know what to look for, or when they are being scammed.

After the homeowner answers your questions, share your solutions with them. The Internet will not be able to do that. And the reality is that we remember the exceptions, not the average customer. Work with the customers in every way possible to support and help them. However, if a homeowner calls you and asks for a breakdown of your equipment and labor, just tell them no and go on to another one who will trust you. You are not selling them just a product or just the installation labor, your are selling them the whole package that includes the knowledge you may have over your competition that provides tremendous benefit to your customers.

Every four years we see the ultimate triumph of athletes who become the best in the world at the summer Olympics. They defy odds, persevere against hope, and break records to win the gold medal to be crowned champion. We see a brief glimpse of the race, sometimes lasting but a few seconds. But what Read More

Every four years we see the ultimate triumph of athletes who become the best in the world at the summer Olympics. They defy odds, persevere against hope, and break records to win the gold medal to be crowned champion. We see a brief glimpse of the race, sometimes lasting but a few seconds. But what we don’t see is what counts. It’s the four years “before” the Olympics that really set the stage for winning. It is no different for contractors in the plumbing trades.

Olympic athletes spend endless hours every day practicing and perfecting their skills. They set very specific goals, make a plan, dedicate themselves to do it, and then put that plan into action with all their heart. Whether an athlete or a business owner of a plumbing company, it’s the process before winning that’s the key. In addition, past failures and circumstances can stay in the past to press forward toward the mark of achieving your goals. We can take a look at the Olympics in Rio for some great lessons.

The first is from the fastest man in Rugby, American, Carlin Isles.   He begins and interview with a reporter and says, “I should not be here”. He remembers his mom getting hauled away for repeated drug busts and was placed in a temporary foster home when he was 8. He could not read, write or even do basic math. He started playing football at the age of 8 and quickly noticed a talent for both football and track. At the age of 21, Carlin moved to Aspen, Colorado to play Rugby and put all his eggs into this one basket with no money, no parents, and put it all on the line.

He remembered a preacher had once told him, “What God puts in your heart, he will equip you to do.” This message clicked when he played Rugby. He runs the 40 yard dash in 4.22 seconds and is billed the fastest man in Rugby. In addition to constant training, you need some financial help for the Olympics however. A gym owner in Canton Ohio heard of him, sponsored his private training, and even bought him a car. The gym owner, Chris Maggiore said he believed in him, and feels like he is a good judge of character. Carlin Isles dedicated himself and found a way to make it to achieve his goal of playing on the US Rugby team.

Gabby Douglas is a famous Olympic Gymnast. She won gold in 2012, and another in 2016 for the women’s team all-around. Her early life was very tough as her family was homeless and living out of a van for almost a year after she was born. They soon moved in with relatives but her father left the family soon after. She and her three siblings were raised by her mom and it was one of the roughest times in her life.

When she was 14, she moved away from friends and family in Virginia Beach, VA. to learn gymnastics in Iowa under the direction of Liang Chow. He is very demanding, but fair, and had this to say about Gabby. “Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses, but the purpose must be there. I can see the ones who have mental toughness and determination and they stand out. Facing tough times may have helped her performance on the gym floor”, said Chow. It can be harder for someone to stay at the top of their game when winning is always effortless, never experiencing disappointment or difficulty. Gabby had the determination to dedicate herself to achieve her goals and held steadfast. She didn’t win a gold after 6 months or a year of training, it took a full four years of hard work most are not willing to do. There are others with great skill like Gabby, but they don’t have the purpose and dedication to continue working diligently day after day for years.

This does not come with trials however. And often there comes a gut-check moment to stay the course or retreat. Just two weeks before the 2012 Olympics, Gabby told her mom she wanted to quit gymnastics. She had moved to Iowa for over two years, was homesick, and ready to move back. She told her mom she could work at Chick-fil-A and run track on a city team. During this emotional trial, it took several mother-daughter talks and determined to stay the course. She has been rewarded with Olympic gold two Olympics in a row. Plumbing Contractors run into this same scenario, stay the course, or retreat while you have a chance because it’s difficult and your reward is not in your hands yet.

Now not every battle or event is won. All the dedication and training comes with zero guaranties. But more often than not, you will come out near or on top. In the 2012 Olympics, Missy Franklin won 4 out of 5 possible gold medals. In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she finished near last in the 200 meter freestyle and didn’t even qualify for the finals of the 200 meter backstroke event she won 4 years ago. She met a reporter after the race and was asked how she felt. She was disappointed but shared this wisdom. She is a young woman who swims, but swimming does not define her. She also said she had to stay focused for the next race in two days. Franklin said, “It’s incredibly frustrating, I need to keep my head up and I need to keep fighting, and that’s what I’m going to do.” She did win gold in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay with her US swimming team. When a contractor works hard and you follow your plans diligently to achieve your goals, even as a business owner, eventually you’re going to win.

And how could Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer in history not be mentioned. He lost to Chad Le Clos in 2012 in the 200 meter Butterfly. Here in 2016, they were both in the ready room with Le Clos shadow boxing right in front of Phelps, who ignores him. Phelps stayed the course even under intimidation and persevered by winning yet another gold. One photo shows Le Clos next to Phelps, looking at him as he cruises ahead to win. Michael Phelps put it all on the line and went all in without a guaranty of winning, knowing what could be said and written about him if he lost to LeClos again, even with all his other triumphs. How often most of us back down in in our business lives under such pressure.

What messages can we get from these stories? It doesn’t matter what has happened in your past business adventures or failures, you can still triumph over what seems to be impossible odds. It takes determination and guts to do what needs to be done when life and business is extremely difficult, especially when it gets close to making perhaps the final big decision that once put in motion, can’t be stopped. It takes a strong commitment to succeed, knowing you win some and may lose some. But without the goal setting, planning, and the many days of hard work, you never win. As they say in poker, sometimes you just have to go all in.

Finally, no one said it would be easy. We may have to make sacrifices and sometimes the cost can be great being a successful plumbing contractor. You may not get the gold sometimes like Missy Franklin. But without following through when it’s difficult or you feel intimidate, you certainly will never win like Michael Phelps.

While many contractors make a lot of money in a 4 month period during the summer, is there a chance you could do even better? Perhaps serve the customers better and improve your chances for referrals where there is no competition while earning trust from the consumer? Of course, YES. Here are 10 ways to Read More

While many contractors make a lot of money in a 4 month period during the summer, is there a chance you could do even better? Perhaps serve the customers better and improve your chances for referrals where there is no competition while earning trust from the consumer? Of course, YES.

Here are 10 ways to improve your company performance and keep your sanity during the hot weather.

  1. Listen to your customers. Contractors often get too rushed in summer, realizing there are more customers to see in this time period then a few months ago. When moving too fast, this can cause many to stop or forget to do the very things that made them the kind of company the customer wants to see. Really pay attention to the customer. Listen to their story and don’t jump to conclusions before they finish. Repeat back what they said so you can begin earning their trust because they know you are listening. Then you can fix the problem.
  1. Stay focused. Focus on the customer. Set aside the personal problems as they are not interested in your daughter’s broken arm, for instance. Leave the other customers outside your home, your family issues should not come in the house with you.
  1. Make a good first impression. Yep, gotta get them booties out. I know it takes about 20 seconds to put on the carpet protectors, but it shows respect. Do it every time. And take 2 breath mints before you ring the doorbell. They don’t need to know you had garlic pizza for lunch. If you’re a smoker, at least put some Fabreeze spray on or something to help repel the smoke odor.
  1. Clean shirt. Take a minute to be sure you are not wearing the last dirty service call. If you’re last service call made your shirt dirty, put on another new shirt. Yes, the back up shirt you should keep and always have available in your truck. When you use it, take the soiled shirt out of the truck that evening and get it cleaned. Also, clean up and straighten up that truck. Take 5 minutes at the end of each day to throw out the trash and make sure you have adequate supplies, with a simple quick overview to make sure you are always prepared for upcoming jobs.
  1. Do a complete exam. When you go to the doctor, they take blood pressure, weight, pulse, and more, even when you tell him you have a rash on your arm. They are looking for other problems that may be a factor. We have to have that same attitude as contractors to look the entire system over. You may find a valve that leaks or another issue that, if found, could save your customer lots of money by correcting the problem early.
  1. Quality over quantity. Recently, a contractor in California told me he had a tech who ran 12 calls the day before. Really? In California traffic? I did not ask how many he had to go back on, but when we are rushed, mistakes happen that can cost customers money and ultimately, yor company more future business. So a company may have to tell a customer the reality: to do this job correctly, you will be there tomorrow, or in two days if necessary. Realize the customer doesn’t want to hear this, but the dispatcher has to know there is a physical limit to what the company can do in a given day. This ultimately is good for the customer and your business. Stacking on more calls can weaken your effectiveness and your bottom line.
  1. Start a maintenance agreement program. Yep, start it now! This is especially beneficial when you service HVAC units in addition to plumbing services. When you come upon a nasty problem, tell the customer the truth, they need a precision tune up and professional cleaning. In many cases, the unit has a problem that can be traced back to a lack of maintenance. You can even schedule that tune up for October, when the units are not used as much and it’s a more convenient time for your customer.
  1. Do immediate maintenance on older equipment. If you have a customer contact you that has older equipment, schedule maintenance to be done quickly. Especially before summer for HVAC equipment, before it breaks down. That way you have a better chance to pick up a new customer when the competition can’t get to them.
  1. Develop a “go now” attitude for replacement sales. Some contractors get the information for a quote and then take it back to the office to put together a proposal. Then “tries” to make an appointment to go back to share the numbers. When a call comes in, get to the home now and put together a proposal on the spot. Make it happen. And while you’re in the neighborhood, don’t fax or email a proposal. This stuff is sold face to face where people like to buy from people they like. 7% of communication is words, 38% is tone of voice, and 55% is body language. So you can gain more customers using good body language face to face.
  1. Praise the successes. Publically. Thank the team members who go the extra mile and help a customer in unexpected ways. Correct the mistakes privately. Make sure the team understands you value them.

Although these ideas are simple, they are always good principles for every business and everyone needs a refreshing reminder from time to time.