Beyond Hard Knocks Part 1

August 1, 2005

Going Beyond the School of Hard Knocks

By: John Zink

Where did you learn what you know about this business?

Ask a group of contractors that question at the next industry event you attend. Some successful contractors might mention a mentor that they had or networking they did at industry meetings and the educational events they have attended over the years. From the rest you will likely hear that the school of hard knocks was the most common way to get an education on everything from spinning a wrench all the way up to how to make the scary move from employee to business owner.

There is no lesson plan in the school of hard knocks and the text book is limited to whatever the world decides to throw your way. The good news is that it is pretty easy to get ahead of the rest of the hard knocks class just by seeking out educational programs that teach attendees the skills they need to be successful. Below are some helpful rules to keep in mind when you are considering education for yourself and your employees.

You can also read a more complete feature on this subject at the Contractor Resource Center Library.


1. Just Do It!
The simplest rule and often the most ignored.

Your business might be able to survive without training and educational programs. But surviving is not the point. A person can survive on bread and water, but warm cooked meals taste much better and lead to a healthier life.

Training and education are tools that help you and your employees get the choice work that feeds a healthy, thriving company. Without those tools, you may be stuck with the leftover crumbs—the work that more successful companies have left behind.


2. Spend the Money to Do It!
Few companies budget funds for education.

According to the PHCC Educational Foundation’s 1999 Contractor Survey, just 37% of contractors have an annual budget for attending educational conferences and seminars. The amount budgeted per year to cover training costs for all their employees totaled around $5,000. Does this sound like a lot of money? Compare this to the national average cost of tuition and fees at a private college for just ONE student at about $20,000 per year.

As a business owner, you are the "parent" of your company. You are looking out for its well being, its growth & development and working to make it as successful as possible. Ultimately, you are also looking for this "child" to take care of you when you retire.

With that in mind, would you refuse to help your “child” get an education? Remember that every dollar you spend on training helps your company to grow and get better at its job: providing for you!

Create an education line item in your fixed expenses budget, just like the line item that pays for your office supplies. If you treat education expenses just like any other necessary cost of operating your business, the funds will be ready and available when educational opportunities come up.


3. Stop Thinking That You Know “Enough to Get By.”
Knowing “enough” is dangerous.

You don’t know everything. Nobody can and that’s fine. But a person who thinks that they know enough to get by and is content to leave things that way is dangerous. Complacency leaves companies vulnerable to shifts in market conditions. One shift can send an unprepared company under much faster than most contractors care to think about.

Actively work to surround yourself with people who complement your skills and compensate for weak areas. Make thoughtful hiring decisions based on long term goals and get yourself and your employees into to quality educational programs. With some work, you will field a great team that is prepared and able to keep all the bases in your company covered.


4. Don’t Think That Once is Enough.
Keep Feeding the Fire.

Think of attending an educational program as throwing a log on a fire. Each seminar attended will add to the flames, but the fire will die out if it isn’t constantly fed.

In a company, you want to build a huge bonfire and keep it constantly burning. Having multiple employees attending seminars and conferences gives you the extra fuel you need to keep the flames on the educational bonfire glowing bright. Those flames will help light your way if and when you run into dark times.


Read the next installment by by clicking here.


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