By Dylan Conner
I am one of those kooky guys with the misguided expectation that my business should run like a well-oiled machine. The problem is, from time to time I stop oiling and maintaining the machine. Nevertheless, I’m always shocked, angered, or otherwise freaked out when things go south.
Having literally grown up in this business and around the trade, I should have all the tools to make it happen right? Riding shotgun with my dad as a kid, learning to turn wrenches as a teenager and watching my dad, who was a one man show, freak out from time to time over dealing with invoicing, accounting, and all the other stuff in the business that isn’t appliance repair did not prepare me for my journey as a business owner. I never understood why he would spend Sundays away from home at a park with his nose buried in paperwork or why some months he would stop taking work for a few days just to catch up. I was absolutely certain that my father was just unorganized. That may have been partially the case, but I have come to the painful conclusion that running a successful appliance repair business is challenging on the best of days. Especially when you’re a tech with no formal business training. That’s right, I am a proud legacy student of my father’s alma mater: The School of Hard Knocks. At this point, I believe I am a 13th year senior.
As a human being I am for sure a work in progress, but so is my business. My company is profitable, I actually do quite well, yet there are days I long to be a one-man appliance band roaming the land and working with my hands. Employees, customers, and a million other variables can really put a damper on things and cause me to lose my mind at times. I think often about making a radical escape, selling my business, and moving to Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Let’s be real, these are just fleeting emotions. Emotions that have, at times crippled my ability to use logic and reason to exponentially grow my business.
Do you ever say to yourself, “I am the only one who can do anything right.”? I have and do from time to time. How full of myself can I be!? I currently employ 10 techs and 3 office staff. I probably personally touch 10% of the calls in some way. The idea that only I can do things right is absurd. It’s also detrimental to business growth. I actually think it’s a manifestation of fear. Call it what you want, fear, anxiety, pressure, whatever. It is a malignant tumor that will prevent any sort of healthy growth in your business.
Early on in my business, I had a real wakeup call when I fired my only two techs on the same day. These guys were both fairly green and young. I really felt they were making things hard for me with their mistakes and attitude. To top it off, I felt they were ganging up on me and possibly conspiring against me. (In hindsight these were irrational fears. These guys really just wanted to make a living) One day I was on the phone with one of the techs, we will call him Joe for the sake of anonymity. Joe was giving me a hard time about the money he was making. I felt he was being disrespectful. He was very inexperienced and pretty slow. Much of this was not his fault, but mine. I didn’t take the time to pour training into him. I just turned him loose and sent him to the wolves. To me, appliance repair was easy and natural. It was hard for me to comprehend why Joe wasn’t getting it. Now, Joe was really not a bad guy, but that day, I brought out his worst and I brought out my worst self in doing so. During the final moments of our confrontation, I channeled Donald Trump. Not the president, but the guy on the show, The Apprentice. I firmly said, “Joe, We tried to give you a chance, you clearly cannot do the job I am paying you for, and frankly I feel I am overpaying you for the job you’re doing. You have made this easy. You’re Fired.” I may have been in a service truck on a cell phone, but in my mind I might as well have been on the top of Trump Tower in the boardroom with some old bald guy to my right and Donald Jr. or Ivanka to my left. Regardless, I felt a weight off my shoulders. I could get back to making money and not paying Joe to mess things up all the time. Well, Joe called my other tech as soon as we were off the phone, we will call him Jack. Jack called me and verbally ripped me up for having fired his buddy, Joe. So I summoned The Donald once more and kicked Jack to the curb. Finally, I was free of techs and could go back to doing what I do best. The excitement would soon fade as I was served with two separate lawsuits. Now, I won’t waste your time with the story of how that all went down but let me tell you, being on that side of any lawsuit, justified or not, is one of the most unpleasant things I’ve ever endured.
After surviving my two lawsuits and getting back to work, you could say I was taken down a notch, maybe even two or three notches. I was scared to hire, afraid to grow, and increasingly depressed with life in general. I even applied to be a train conductor with the Canadian Pacific railroad. The idea of moving away and getting paid to ride the rails for a respectable salary sounded extremely appealing to me at that point.
Somehow I got out of my funk and with the help of my dad, who I pulled out of retirement to help me clean up all the calls that were leftover and eventually hire, better manage, and train more technicians. Now I’m not going to lie to you. I have made a million other mistakes since and not always been the best version of myself on this bumpy, curvy, and at times muddy, road to success, but that’s why I haven’t received a diploma from this School of Hard Knocks yet. I have however made changes to how I handle things and I certainly don’t terminate people as if I am the star of a reality TV show anymore.
Now, the most expensive part of this life lesson was not the lawyer. It was not the two settlements I paid out. It wasn’t even the time I spent dealing with the whole debacle. It was the ever-looming fear to get back to the business of business. It was all the what-ifs that swam about in my head like hungry piranhas prepared to devour any sort of new ambition to build my company so I could achieve my personal goals.
Fear or anxiety can be the biggest wall keeping you from running a successful, profitable business. Fear that employees will scratch a floor, or burn a house down. Anxiety when your email notifies you that a new review has been posted about your business. Please be 5 stars please be 5 stars! Worry that your office staff might say the wrong thing to a customer on the phone and create more stress for you. The dreadful feeling that something awful is going to happen if you are not in control of every aspect in your company. I am not suggesting that you don’t put in preventative measures to avoid scratching floors or training to keep your staff educated on how to handle situations. What I am suggesting is that many times the things that keep us up at night as business owners are seldom worth the time and emotional stress we spend on them.
I would like to propose that the most productive thing you can do (I am preaching to myself) is to remain calm or at least make a conscious effort to remain calm in all situations. The things we most fear in business and in life for that matter seldom come to fruition. The problem for me as a business owner is I can spend so much energy and time fretting over things that haven’t even happened that when something actually does hit the fan, I am not emotionally or mentally prepared to deal with it logically. I would like to encourage my fellow business owners. Don’t let the fear of something that happened in the past prevent you from moving forward. Rather learn from past mistakes, make logical changes as needed, and plow forward. Yes I said plow. Nobody is going to be a success by accident and it’s never easy, but if you can set aside the fear and angst that cripples your ability to use logic and reason to run your business, I am fully confident you will see favorable results.
It’s time to abandon emotionalism and rethink why you do what you do. I sort of fell into this trade, but why do I do it? I love repairing appliances. I love dealing with (most) customers. I even enjoy managing and maintaining a relationship with my staff, but the core of any small business is providing a lifestyle for yourself. If we can set aside our feelings and look at this thing objectively. We can move forward much faster and achieve our goals. Don’t let your ego cause you to make expensive mistakes like firing guys who really just need training, or wasting efforts worrying about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet.
What are the ingredients to a successful, well-run business? Customers and Employees are the top two in my opinion. So what do I need to do to cultivate the top two ingredients of my success? I won’t answer that question for you because I don’t know your business. I will tell you that job number one for me is every day to remind myself to remain calm in all situations. I don’t always prevail, but I do my best to shake it off and start over the next day or even later the same day. Fear, worry and anxiety are some of the biggest roadblocks on the path to success. I would like to encourage you, don’t let those things stop you from being the titan of industry you were born to be. Stay calm, remember to breathe, and be great. Running an appliance business can be fun again. Set aside irrational fears and label them as such. We don’t have time to be afraid. There is a mission at hand and we cannot afford to let irrelevant things keep us from achieving our goals and dreams. I have to remind myself daily, but as I do, calmness becomes my habit and the worrisome panic that is fear fades into background noise so when something real does happen I am emotionally and mentally prepared to handle it with wisdom and logic. If you are a stone cold business machine, this is not for you, but if you’re anything like me I just want you to know you can train your brain to chill out and get back to molding and shaping the best version of your business and self.