“How can I be successful in setting my company apart from my competitors, when they are providing similar services and working under the table for cash”? That’s a question I get from a lot of contractors these days.
My answer? “Leaders of successful companies surround themselves with people and companies that demand the highest industry standards from them. The companies that are working for and paying cash while avoiding taxes, workers compensation and other costs will always be playing in the little leagues as high standard customers will not use them. You should Focus on better clients and avoid playing your competitions short sighted business game.”
While writing this month’s tip, the song Sweet Music Man by Kenny Rogers came on the radio - the lyrics provided a perfect complement to what I intended to write this tip about.
No, Kenny didn’t explain this to me while we threw back shots of whiskey at the local Honky Tonk. Inspired by Waylon Jennings and his wife, Kenny sings about the struggle to break away from the ones who keep you from rising to the top. He says in the song:
“I wouldn’t listen and I couldn’t see, all I have left now is the words he said to me. Sing a song sweet music man 'cause I won't be there to hold your hand like I used to, I'm through with you. You're a heck of a singer and powerful man but you surround yourself with people who demand so little of you.”
Most construction companies feel like working for cash is the only way to survive in the early stages of building their company. Then, as they become comfortable with the process, they continue playing the cash game for customers with low standards. Sadly, this comfort zone (weakness) comes from the top and filters down into all areas of the business. Later in the song, Kenny sings:
“Sing your song sweet music man, you travel the world with a six piece band that does for you what you tell 'em to. And you try to stay young but the songs are sung to so many people who've all begun came back on you. Sing your song sad music man, makin' your living doing one night stands, they're through with you, they don't need you, you're still a heck of a singer but a broken man but you'll keep on lookin' for one last fan to sing to.”
Once the low standards continue at your company, many good customers leave you for someone new. I suddenly realized that these words were pointing to a key operating principle for my business and my life.
Purposefully and proactively surround yourself with people who demand A LOT from you.
When I started the masonry business 32 years ago, several friends and relatives started similar businesses as well. The ones that continued to work for cash are out of business or have hardly grown over the same period as me. If they would have focused their energy on proper processes - instead of trying to save money by working for cash - we’d still be healthy competitors. Instead, those low standards kept them from growing as their focus has always been on hiding wealth instead of creating it.
If we were to map out this key operating principle, the process would look something like this:
Working with companies (and people) with higher standards ==> higher expectations of you ==> you (consciously and unconsciously) are driven to produce better work ==> your skills grow, this new higher quality of work just becomes the “new normal,” and your reputation grows big time in the marketplace ==> you get the nod on jobs over your competitors time and time again.
Funny enough, while writing this tip an email came across my screen showing a big fat check was being deposited from Turner Construction Company. I smiled to myself, not because of the money, but because I owe a lot of my success to Turner and other companies like them.
Because Turner is known to have such high safety and quality standards (along with tight deadline requirements), many sub-contractors will avoid bidding work for them as they don’t want to be held to the Turner standards. And just like my early peers, these same companies remain small forever as their owners wait endlessly for a shortcut to the top.
In closing today, I want you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are you surrounding yourself with? People with high standards and high expectations of you? If not, how can you proactively seek out these high standard people and situations?
- Are there companies you are shying away from working with because they demand more? If you were to look at this from a longer term/investor vantage point, how might some upfront costs paid now, pay you back big dividends in the future?
- How can you bring people onto your team with high standards? And how can you communicate to your team you believe in them while having high expectations of them?
Oh and one more thing, google Sweet Music Man on YouTube and listen to the 4:20 version of the song. It may inspire you to adopt this principle into your business and your life.
Damian Lang owns and operates several companies in Ohio. He is the inventor of the Grout Hog-Grout Delivery System, Mud Hog mortar mixers, Hog Leg wall-bracing system, and several other labor-saving devices used in the construction industry. He is the author of the book called “RACE—Rewarding And Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry.” He writes for Masonry Magazine each month and consults with many of the leading contractors in the country.