Let's face it, you're stuck. The prices you're getting are barely paying the bills, the leads just barely seem to trickle in, and the leads you are getting are ultra-picky homeowners who don't want to pay a dime more than they have to. To make matters worse, you bust your tail all day, and you are not getting any younger. Well, I'm here to tell you, it's all your fault!

OK, just to be clear, it's not your fault that "nobody wants to pay for quality anymore." It's not your fault that "low-ballers are driving down prices and profits." It's not your fault that the economy tanked and "people are tightening their wallets" (that was eight years ago, by the way). It's not your fault that owning a business is hard.


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It is your fault that you started your own business. Owning a business means you own a lot of responsibility: You are accountable for building processes to fix problems efficiently and overcoming challenges to make a profit. Like it or not, this is what you signed up for. The problem isn't the economy or miserly customers expecting perfection. It isn't the manufacturers or distributors squeezing us contractors. It isn't low-ballers driving down profit margins. Those things can impact your business, but the problem, and the potential solution, is you. It's time to stop blaming external factors you have no control over and take responsibility for your business.

No Responsibility = Giving Up Power

If you shrug off responsibility for the difficulties your business is facing, you give up any power you might have had to do something about it. And blaming external factors is shrugging off responsibility to the highest degree. External factors are anything you can't control: the weather, the economy, your competition and, of course, your customers. For example, if you're a roofer, it could be easy to blame the rainy weather for low profit margins. After all, you can't roof in the rain, and you can't stop the rain from falling. You are powerless.

In the hardwood flooring world, we see this all the time. Bob keeps getting undercut by low-ballers, and customers don't want to pay for the extra quality he delivers. His attempt to overcome this is to lower his prices, but now his margins are squeezed and he still can't compete against the $2/foot companies. What does Bob do? He gets frustrated. He complains to all his friends and family, he complains to his distributor over a cup of coffee while waiting to pick up supplies, and he gives up on the idea that something can be done to change his circumstances. He's right: Nothing can be done about the external factors contributing to his inability to get higher prices.

Changing Mindset = Regaining Control

So what can Bob do? Change his entire frame of mind and consider what he can do to regain control of his business. Your frame of mind determines your ability to be successful. It's hard for us contractors to think of ourselves as lazy, because we work so hard on the job site. But I'm not referring to the job site. I'm referring to the office, where building your business happens. And business building is hard work, which is why blaming external factors is pure laziness.


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As with most things in life, positive change starts with the right attitude. When I started my company, I vowed to never blame my problems on something I had no control over. After one year in business working my tail off and getting crappy prices, I got very frustrated. I used all the same excuses you've heard a million times; most of them start with, "In my area…" (You know exactly what I'm talking about). Sitting in bed one night, I asked myself something that should have been obvious from the start: If the problems with my business are due to external factors, why am I bothering to try? If nothing can be done about my customers, my market area and my competition, I should give up. Trying to change the unchangeable is insanity. But I didn't want to give up; I was too damn competitive. I decided to change my attitude.

My First Step: Admitting Ignorance

The first step I took was to admit to myself that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know what running a business meant, and I didn't have the knowledge I needed to grow my business. Again, I'm not talking about the technical side of the business, I'm referring to the business-building side. I determined the steps I needed to take to fix this breakdown. Although I didn't know what I was doing, I knew there were tons of people who are experts in building a business, and many of them have shared their knowledge through books. I decided to read every business book I could get my hands on. It was by reading these books that I realized I may not have the power to control external factors, but I certainly had the power to innovate and overcome the challenges of external factors. External factors are just that: "factors." Real problems tend to be more basic, and, if framed appropriately, have unlimited solutions if you just use your imagination.

Reframing Two Typical 'Problems'

Let's take a look at how we can reframe two of the typical "problems" we see in our business:

1) "I have picky customers who don't want to pay for quality." This isn't a customer problem, it's a lead-generation problem. Why is your current offer attracting these types of customers? How professional are your website and social media pages? If you were a homeowner wanting the best service and were willing to pay top dollar, would you choose your company based on the appearance of your website? Are your prices so low they attract only price-shopping customers? You do realize that customers who are looking for quality and are willing to pay for it are turned off by low prices, right? In fact, they often choose based on whatever costs the most. Have you ever risked being the highest price?

2) "Low-ball competition is undercutting my bids." This isn't a competition problem; this is a marketing position problem. Why are you bidding against the low-ball competition? Why are you not attracting customers who already understand the extra value you bring to the table? How are you positioning yourself in the market? What is your overall marketing strategy?

Solutions Are Limitless (But Require Work)

Once you reframe the perceived problem, solutions are limitless. However, a solutions-oriented perspective requires a lot of attention, effort and help. Invest in a professionally built website that can facilitate much better lead generation. Take your Facebook page and other social media seriously and start generating great content and targeted ads. Build an estimate template that blows your competition's little line-item estimate out of the water. All of this takes time and money. Owning a flooring business is more than running a floor sander; it's about building a business. Change from working "in" your business to working "on" your business, which means managing customers and employees, building processes and communicating your value.

It's OK to tell yourself, "I'm not willing to do the hard work to overcome this problem right now." We can't tackle all our problems at once. Choose the most important problem and work on that. And remember, no successful person ever got successful on their own. I love talking business, so feel free to shoot me an email, and maybe we can help each other out.


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Jim Clarey is owner at Fargo, N.D.-based Natural Accent Hardwood Floors. He can be reached via email.