On Being An Independent Business Person
I used to roll my eyes when I overheard my boss talking to his friends about being a business owner while I was doing my after-school job in high school. One of his pet comments was something about having to work 14-16 hour days, instead of 8 like normal workin’ folk. But he said it enough for me to realize there was some truth to it. I did see him spend an awful lot of time at the store when I worked there during my summer vacations – he was there before I showed up at 9 and was there long after the store closed most days.
When I became an independent flooring installer, I went into it with my eyes open. I knew, if I were to succeed, it would mean long hours and doing a lot more than just crawling around on my knees. Telling friends and associates to recommend you, putting your little ad in the phone book, or contacting retailers until you find one that needs an installer to agree to his rates and conditions is not all there is to being an independent business person. In fact, working for one store is more like being an employee with no benefits than it is being in business for yourself. But even then, you still have to do bookkeeping, be insured, etc.
In the beginning, marketing my skills and business was intimidating. But there weren’t enough flooring stores, or any I trusted enough to want to work for in my location. I had to go door-to-door, or rather framing stud-to-framing stud. I would find new construction and stop by to speak with the contractor. If it was after they had shut down for the day (builders here always seem to go home at 3PM), I would tack my business card to a framing stud that I thought they would see.
The local paper was a good resource, but I didn’t care for the clunky ads they printed. So, I learned how to create my own. A small ad that was in the same newspaper section every week gets noticed and doesn’t cost nearly as much as a big ad I could only afford to run once or twice.
I listened for more clues that people were doing remodeling or talking about someone that was. I handed strangers my business card a lot. They were cheap and effective. I tried to hand out a few cards wherever I went – grocery store, tire shop, restaurants, the movie theater. I’d give a card to owners or managers and tell them if they wanted to get that bad seam or damage to their floor fixed, gimme a call. If I struck up a casual conversation with someone, I’d leave them with a card and tell them how nice it was to talk and please give me a call sometime.
Creating ads, business cards and brochures was all a part of being in business. So is bookkeeping. I HATED bookkeeping, but in 1992, I bought my first computer with making that job easier my first priority. Still, it takes time every single day to manage the books and paperwork of a business. It’s not all numbers, there’s contacts, proposals, contracts, reports, notes and more.
In the days before cell phones, I had to spend a lot of time at my desk just returning or making calls – orders, scheduling, answering 20 questions and making cold calls to people my friends, associates and customers suggested I call. My first cell phone had its own case that was bigger than a lunch box. There was a real advantage to the modern cell phone, but I had to learn the hard way that just because I could carry a cell phone in my pocket, didn’t mean I could use the cell phone anytime it rang or I had the urge. Some customers didn’t appreciate it. And even I hate to go to a restaurant and listen to people shouting into their phones.
Let’s not forget the estimates. I didn’t have to drive to someone’s house every day to measure and consult, but sometimes I did and occasionally there were several estimates to do miles and miles apart. I covered a very large county. It was not unusual to drive 30 miles one way – when the towns populations were only a couple thousand at most, you do what you gotta do to stay busy. But whether your town has 2 thousand or 200 thousand people, you still have a lot of wheel time and face time to deal with during your business hours.
Those hours add up. I did work 14-16 hour days, but only occasionally. Even those days my jobs were short, I “worked” at my business for well over 8 hours a day. I enjoyed my business because it involved using my head more than using my knees. I like driving, I enjoy talking floors to people, I’m excited about the various personalities and interesting locations I could visit every day. Sitting at my computer was fun and I even liked being an employer /slash/ trainer /slash/ mentor most of the time.
I was an employee for a few short periods of my career as an installer. After being in business for myself, I never wanted to return to that status. I had to a couple times, but always went back to my independence. That’s how I ended my career on the floor and I miss it terribly, including all the hours it took to be in business for myself.
That’s how I used to fill up my time. Now I just run The Floor Pro Community.