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I just talked to my mechanic today. I was dropping off my minivan to get the struts repaired ($1000.00 job. I’ve done the work before but don’t enjoy that job). He had some business insights that we can learn a lot from in our industry!

Working harder, not smarter

He told me his back story. He has been in business for 45 years and learned lots of lessons along the way. When he started, he worked as hard as possible but never seemed to make any traction.

He was swapping engines, transmissions, doing a lot of “high dollar” work, backed up by three weeks, but not making any money. At that point, he almost went broke. Instead of giving up he decided to learn more about the business (there must be something I’m missing). He paid 10,000 dollars for a training class from his software company and finally started learning about his business.

Instead of learning to be a better mechanic he decided that he needed to learn to be at business. He didn’t get better at turning wrenches faster; he didn’t buy more expensive equipment, he learned how to know his numbers and price jobs correctly. He learned to work with his employees and manage (delegate to them) instead of trying to get everything done himself. Now the shop looks tidy, the backlog is short, and he does excellent work, and he knows that he is making a profit for his efforts.

Know your numbers (no exceptions)

I started asking him about his numbers. He knew his costs per hour, no calculations, no wondering. It was $40 an hour. Jobs that were less than that were losing him money. He reminded me that the cost per hour had to include replacing equipment (depreciation) and paying his salary (owners payroll). For reference, our industry (lawn services) cost per hour is around $25-35. If you haven’t already done for your company, you can use this spreadsheet to find out. He said he tracks his financial numbers every day. He knew exactly how many customers he had serviced last year, and how many he expected to maintain this year.

Be responsible for your own life

He readily admitted his mistakes and put the blame squarely on his shoulders. Through the whole conversation, he often said when he made a mistake, it was his fault, not other companies. He also made changes when he knew that other companies couldn’t deliver what he needed. Instead of viewing himself as the victim of his circumstances he saw himself as the humble director of his circumstances. Don’t give into the blame game. Look for solutions, not places to put the blame for mistakes. Mistakes happen in every person’s life, learn to deal with them correctly (if you haven’t read it yet I would highly recommend seven habits of highly effective people, it talks about blame in a significant way). When you make a mistake own it, then find the solution.

Six takeaways

  1. Talk to other business owners, take the time to invest in conversations with people. They have a wealth of information to offer you even if they are in a different industry.
  2. Never give up on your education as a business owner. You are the biggest threat to your success. No one can ruin your company faster than you can through your ignorance.
  3.  Expect to have hard times, and don’t give up.
  4. Don’t make excuses; accept responsibility for finding solutions.
  5. Business lessons can apply to lots of different industries. Look for lessons everywhere in life.
  6. Business lessons apply in the country too. Just because your shop is by your house doesn’t mean your excluded from knowing your numbers! Just because you’re in a slow (or fast) market doesn’t mean you can’t improve.

How did he get to that point? He stopped working harder, looked at the problem, evaluated it, and pursued new solutions. Don’t do the same things if they aren’t working. Find someone smarter than you. Buy a book, attend a meeting, find a mentor. Don’t give up, and don’t settle. Pursue success every day.

Improve yourself 1% every day. That’s 37 times as good one year from today.